The future of transport infrastructure

As the country with the highest transit volume in Europe, an excellent transport infrastructure is essential for Germany. Roads will continue to play the most important role in the traffic system in future, guaranteeing a high level of mobility for individuals and goods transportation. Despite the fact that the German transport infrastructure is still considered to be good by international standards, its substance has been in distinct decline over the past few years. During the period 2005 to 2013 for instance, annual public investment in Germany was mostly at a lower level than the amount of depreciation for the same year. Consideration of public investment in the non-residential building sector (which includes the transport infrastructure) for the same period shows that the volume concerned was not nearly enough to compensate for the loss of value. The need for investment will continue to rise steadily in the future.

There are essentially two reasons why additional financial funds are required to maintain and operate the German transport infrastructure. Firstly a lot of roads, bridges, tunnels and canals are very old and in need of repair. According to the Federal Ministry of Transport, 40.8 per cent of Federal highways were built before 1984 for example. The figure for waterways is even as high as 52.1 per cent. Secondly the actual volume of traffic is far higher than initially forecast, thus shortening the service life of the structures concerned. By 2025, the Federal Ministry of Transport is expecting the amount of goods transported by road to increase by 52.9 per cent in relation to 2010 to a total of approx. 675.6 billion tonne kilometres. These facts alone show just how important the necessary replacement investments and modernisation measures are.

Numerous studies have been conducted in recent years to determine the exact scope of replacement and maintenance work required. In a 2014 study, the Cologne Institute for Economic Research worked out that 20.9 per cent of Federal roads and 8.7 per cent of all Federal motorways are urgently in need of repair. This corresponds to a total length of approximately 9,400 kilometres – roughly the distance between Berlin and San Francisco. There is also a tremendous demand for investment in bridges. According to a study produced in 2013 by the German Institute of Urban Affairs, more than 10,000 municipal road bridges will have to be replaced by 2030. This all adds up to total replacement construction costs of up to 16 billion euros in the period under consideration for municipal road bridges alone. Added to this is a great need for investment in Federal highways and the rail infrastructure.

The Federal government has recognised the enormous backlog of necessary investment in the infrastructure. The final report of the "Future of transport infrastructure financing" commission (2012) headed by the former Federal Minister of Transport Dr. Karl-Heinz Daehre came to the conclusion that an annual deficit of at least 7.2 billion euros has built up solely for the maintenance and operation of roads, railways and waterways. A forward-looking transport policy geared to actual requirements is therefore called for to secure a constant high level of investment funds. The potential offered by public private partnerships (PPP) must also be exploited to a greater extent. In addition, there is a need for more efficient use of the investment funds, faster planning and authorisation procedures, the creation of self-contained financing systems and more extensive user financing. A positive aspect is the expert commission set up by the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel to promote both public and private investment in Germany. The transport infrastructure is a major focal point of the work of this commission, chaired by the head of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Marcel Fratzscher.

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