Another Pounding for Belgium’s Poor Roads

Belgium is squandering its natural advantages due to lack of investment in transport and roads says the European Commission. But is that really fair?

Also, a quick look at France’s windy Mont Aigoual. And, a road and a rail bridge for Sicily’s Messina Strait insists Renzi. Classic confusion over Paris old-car ban + A1 bus and taxi lane reinstated. Finland top cop in monster speeding fine.

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ANOTHER POUNDING FOR BELGIUM’S POOR ROADS

The European Commission throws in its own tuppence worth, but unfortunately barely more than that.

Central Brussels, February 2016. Photo @DriveEurope

Central Brussels, February 2016. Photo @DriveEurope

Poor old Belgium has been at the receiving end of some harsh criticism recently, especially on transport.

It kicked off with a scathing report in the Guardian last year – ‘Five reasons Belgium has the worst traffic in Europe’ – followed by a spectacularly ungrateful rant by an uppity Brussels expat in October – ‘The city that doesn’t give a damn’.

Last month a group of engineering consultants called the state of the roads and tunnels in Brussels ‘catastrophic’ while the rest of the country hardly fared any better.

Now the European Commission has had a go.

In its Country Report Belgium 2016, published last week, the Commission says, ‘The transport network represents the most acute investment gap.’

It says the country’s advantages – like its central location and port infrastructure – are ‘threatened by increasing road congestion, the lack of adequate road maintenance, missing links, and road safety issues.’

According to the report, Belgium spends less on new roads and maintenance than the EU average, now lower as a percentage of GDP than the 1990s, and is the undisputed congestion capital of Europe, particularly around Brussels and Antwerp during peak hours.

Furthermore, it asserts, the new electronic truck toll due to start next month ‘will not have a significant impact on congestion, because cars are the main users of road infrastructure.’

The report also criticises the lack of progress on completing the Antwerp R1 ring road, and says the planned upgrade to the northern Brussels R0 ring is only likely to attract more congestion.

In an irony that escapes no-one, the European Commission, with its highfalutin transport ambitions, is long-headquartered in a country with such a troubled record.

But the fundamental fact overlooked by many is that Belgium is the ultimate EU transit country, attracting heavy traffic not just to its own ports, but between the English Channel and Eastern Europe, and between the Netherlands and France too. No wonder it struggles.

Perhaps the Commission should look to itself first. It’s happy to spend transport billions in the so-called Cohesion countries, and rightly so, but one of Europe’s highest priorities is considerably closer to home.

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Tour de France regular 1912m Mont Ventoux is thought of as the windiest place in France – Venteux means windy - but 1567m Mont Aigoual, on the other side of the A7 at Avignon in southern France, is where the highest wind speeds have been measured – 360kmh in 1966 – and where MeteoFrance keeps a monitoring station. Already today speeds of 135kmh have been reached, and that on not a particularly windy day. Aigoual is served by twisty roads from the A75 Millau Viaduct, 60km west, or Ales at 80km east. On a clear day, Mont Blanc in the Alps, the Mediterranean and Pyrenees are all visible. Be warned, like Ventoux, Aigoual’s roads are frequently closed by high winds (or indeed snow). Photo Mont Aigoual Facebook.

Tour de France regular 1912m Mont Ventoux is thought of as the windiest place in France – Venteux means windy – but 1567m Mont Aigoual, almost due west, on the other side of the A7 past Avignon, is where the highest wind speeds have been measured – 360kmh in 1966 – and where MeteoFrance keeps a monitoring station. Already today speeds of 143kmh have been seen, and this is not a particularly windy day. Aigoual is served by twisty roads from the A75 Millau Viaduct, 60km west, or Ales at 80km east. On a clear day, Mont Blanc in the Alps, the Mediterranean and Pyrenees are all visible. However, be warned – like Ventoux, Aigoual’s roads are frequently closed by high winds (or indeed snow). Photo Mont Aigoual Facebook.

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roundup: ITALY. The long-discussed bridge to Sicily will carry both cars and trains said Premier Matteo Renzi today reports ANSA.it. A junior coalition party tried to insist last November the Messina Strait crossing – also called Ponte Stretto – should be rail only. The outstanding question is when: as previously, Renzi insists the bridge will only be built when surrounding infrastructure is up to scratch. He called some roads in the region ‘indecent’. The government is spending €2 billion on upgrades in Sicily over the next five years only after which the bridge will be addressed. PARIS. Conflicting info over the past few days over the upcoming old vehicle ban in central Paris which, as of 1 July, applies to petrol vehicles registered before 1997 (and to diesel before 2001) on pain of a €35 fine. A Change.org petition this week from ‘Free Wheels’ (French only) wants Mayor Anne Hidalgo to exclude classic cars. However, News d’Anciennes insists it has already obtained an exemption for vehicles more than 30 years old (see also Jalopnik). An application to allow ‘young-timers’ between 20-30 years has apparently already been turned down. Meanwhile, the bus + taxi lane inbound on the A1 has been reinstated reports Le Parisien. Suspended last June during legal action by chauffeur’s association VTC, the flipside to the new flat rate deal for journeys to Charles de Gaulle airport is that taxis will have the dedicated lane reopened. It operates between 06:00-10:30 on the left (fast) lane for 5km between Courneuve and Stade de France, as per a red X overhead lane closure and roadside signs. The fine is €135, but it’s not clear yet how soon it will be applied. Interestingly, authorities say the system is flexible and can be switched off immediately in the case of major congestion. VTC says it will appeal again. FINLAND. The deputy police chief for Eastern Finland was fined €3740 for speeding today reports Finland Times. Jarmo Nykänen was caught at 132kmh in an 80kmh zone in Juva before Christmas. The penalties for non-custodial sentences are based on an offender’s daily disposable income – a complicated calculation – called a ‘day-fine’, multiplied by the severity of the crime according to gubbins supplied by The Guardian. The multimillionaire fined £39,000 last year for 103kmh in an 80kmh zone was assessed to pay eight day-fines of €6750 each; Nykänen paid 55 day-fines of €68.

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