Catalonia says goodbye to large toll barriers

The Transport Minister acknowledges that there has been a "comparative grievance" with Catalonia

3 min
The toll of La Roca after raising barriers.

"Let it be over, let it be over!" The co-driver of this car does not hide his euphoria as he passes, for the last time, through the toll of La Roca del Vallès. There is another who, minutes later, will express the same emotion by waving to this iconic orange-roofed construction. Most simply opt for the horn. This is how they celebrate "the milestone", which is how the Spanish Minister of Transport, Raquel Sanchez, will refer to the end of tolls on the AP-7 and AP-2, and greet all the media waiting for her at the roadside. The head of this department arrives late to her appointment with the press due to the accumulation of traffic the toll generates. "Fortunately this image will be history in a few hours", she says shortly after arriving.

By midnight the barriers had to be raised, but by dusk it had already been done, and the image of the queues, the accumulation of horns blaring as soon as a car does not go through the barrier quickly, of the driver who gets out of the car because he cannot reach the card slot, and of the workers who make their last hours jumping from wall to wall to get close to a vehicle with problems, was over. On what will happen from now on, there are few answers.

For the time being, the Spanish government will be in charge of the maintenance of these roads, just as the Generalitat will do with the other two that will also be toll-free as of Wednesday: the C-33 and the C-32 North, in the Maresme. However, this is a solution with an expiry date. According to the minister, the Spanish government has already committed to the European Union to address the debate on what is the best system to ensure and pay for the maintenance of roads.

"In the next few months we will be able to propose the best alternative", said the minister, who said that the government is in favour of a model in which those who use the roads and, above all, those who pollute the most by using them, pay for them. "If we want a competitive, safe and sustainable network, we have to ensure that it can be financed mainly by the people who use it and following the criteria that the polluter pays", she said. "It doesn't make sense", she added, "that all citizens pay, even people who don't use the roads".

What is less clear is the concrete formula for achieving this. "It could be a vignette, or it could be a gateway", the minister exemplified. In accordance with the number of times she has insisted on this, what is clear is that the model will be homogeneous: the idea is that it will affect the whole of Spain equally. In fact, Sánchez has acknowledged that until now the situation of tolls in Catalonia was a "comparative disadvantage with the rest of Spain". However, he did not spare himself a little dart towards the Generalitat government: "Now Catalonia is free from the tolls of the state road network, because there are three tolls that remain, which are those of the Generalitat de Catalunya".

Puigneró speaks of plunder

When a little later the Vice-President of the Government and Territory Minister, Jordi Puigneró, occupied the space in which the minister had verbalised the position of the central government, he returned the attack. "We are not here to thank the state", said Puigneró. "The state would have to ask us for forgiveness for the plundering" that these tolls have entailed. A "plundering", he pointed out, of which the scale is already known.

According to what the minister had said before him, Catalan drivers will now save 752 million euros a year by removing these barriers on the AP-2 and AP-7. "What she calls savings, I call plundering", added Puigneró. 

The last time this minister met with Spain's minister Sánchez, in Madrid, the two sealed an agreement to expand the airport of El Prat. In addition, as he confessed last week, Puigneró also formally requested the transfer of the concession of the payment channels. Today, however, he has insisted: "Taking into account this plundering, we ask for the transfer of these infrastructures to the Generalitat de Catalunya, infrastructures that we have already paid for".

The feeling seems to be widespread. At least, that is what was indicated by the horns as he spoke, the cries of celebration or of "chorizos" and the banner that said goodbye to Abertis from the first bridge that the cars encountered once they had passed the toll at Roca del Vallès for the last time.