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Business

A Toll for Germany's Autobahns?

The economics minister's comments on privatizing the Autobahn has drawn a raft of criticism from politicians and experts with most unanimous that Germans won't want to pay money to speed on their beloved freeway system.

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German drivers love their Autobahn, but enough to pay tolls?

No one knows better than the economics minister how much money needs to be saved in order to right Germany's sinking economy.

But Wolfgang Clement's comments to an interviewer that a privatization of Germany's Autobahn, already the case in France and Italy, might help put the country back in the black has sparked criticism.

"The Autobahn in Germany is already paid by taxpayers," says Maximillian Maurer, of Germany's car drivers' association ADAC. "The government can't privatize what already belongs to the taxpayers."

No toll roads

Above all, driver's associations and the country's transportation minister fear privatization of Germany's storied motorway might mean drivers have to begin paying tolls. Critics say that would lead to a re-direction of traffic to smaller streets and roads that pass through towns, causing traffic problems and chaos for residents. Others say setting up a toll system would be too complicated and would scare away companies.

Construction companies greeted Clement's comments, saying that the taxpayer-financed autobahn was a thing of the past.

"We think of it as a worthy option," Heiko Stiepelmann, of the Association of the German Construction Industry told the business daily Handelsblatt. "Given the budget and debt situation, Germany can no longer afford a taxpayer-financed Autobahn."

Politicians, even in Clement's own Social Democratic Party (SPD), have called his comments rash and "shot from the hip."

"There have been no thoughts about a privatization of the Autobahn or a toll," Transportation Minister Manfred Stolpe spelled out for reporters in Berlin.

More than 1 billion spent each year

So far, Clement's thoughts haven't gone beyond the drafting table, and he's kept quiet since his comments in Wednesday's edition of the Berliner Zeitung.

That means the Federal Government will continue to shovel out the approximately 1.2 billion euros needed annually to maintain the 12,000 kilometer (7,400 mile) -long Autobahn network. Any one who's driven the highways in the former East -- or even in heavily traveled sections of the West -- knows that's not enough. New roads cost extra. France privatized its national freeway system in the 1950s, when it was only 80-km long. Today, the system is 10,000 kilometers bigger and the government has continued a toll system that was supposed to be phased out after some time. Up to 90 percent of Italy's freeway system is in private hands, though promised improvement and extensions to the freeways have so far not taken place.

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  • Date 15.01.2004
  • Author DW Staff (atz)
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4ZbT
  • Date 15.01.2004
  • Author DW Staff (atz)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4ZbT