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Construction site of the A99 in the district of Munich: Eight-lane expansion

Photo: Frank Hoermann / Sven Simon / IMAGO

Roads and railways are to be built faster, more 30 km/h zones will be possible and the truck toll will be expanded and increased: On Friday, the Bundestag and Bundesrat adopted a transport package on which the traffic light coalition agreed this week after a long struggle.

Germany's pace

Construction projects on motorways and railways are to get underway more quickly in the future in order to eliminate bottlenecks more quickly. Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) said in the Bundestag that roads, bridges and the rail network had been neglected for decades. That's why traffic jams, miles of detours and endless waiting for the train were unfortunately part of the everyday life of many people. "In the long run, this is not reasonable for anyone, and it causes enormous economic damage." Specifically, various procedures for planning and approval are to be simplified and accelerated.

Clear criticism of the law came from environmentalists. "If the traffic light still describes well over 100 motorway projects as 'in the overriding public interest', then this testifies to an outstanding lack of interest in the protection of nature and the climate," explained Lena Donat of the organization Greenpeace. Every additional kilometre of motorway destroys nature, causes even more traffic jams and wastes many millions of euros of taxpayers' money.

In essence, an "overriding public interest" is to be defined for more than 700 selected projects on motorways and railways, as the draft law states. This should lead to decisions being made much faster in proceedings, said Wissing. The focus is also on facilitating the replacement of dilapidated bridges and the construction of solar systems on federal highways. Under certain conditions, an environmental impact assessment is no longer necessary.

138 motorway projects are also to be implemented at an accelerated pace, with a focus on additional lanes on existing routes. These are projects for which an urgent need to "remove bottlenecks" has been identified and to which the Länder have declared their agreement. Half of the projects are located in North Rhine-Westphalia. There are other projects in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Bremen, Hesse, Lower Saxony and Rhineland-Palatinate. Compared to the list of 144 projects that became known in the spring, little has changed. For example, Hesse abandoned the expansion of the A5 between Frankfurter Kreuz and Kreuz Frankfurt-West, Baden-Württemberg renounced the A8 between the Stuttgart and Wendlingen motorway junctions.

Road Traffic Act

The amendment to the Road Traffic Act stipulates that climate and environmental protection as well as health should also be taken into account as goals in addition to safe flowing traffic. "Bus lanes, road safety, cycle paths, all such questions can be planned and decided more easily and better in the hands of the municipalities," said the co-chair of the Green parliamentary group, Britta Haßelmann.

It is not so much the law itself that decides on concrete changes to the streetscape as its interpretation in the Highway Code. This can be ordered by the Ministry of Transport, but requires the approval of the Länder in the Bundesrat. A draft from Wissing's house is already known, which is rather restrictive and, in the opinion of transport associations such as the union-affiliated ACE, "reduces the scope of the municipalities to zero" in some issues.

Among other things, authorities should also be able to set up "special lanes" for climate-friendly mobility – for example, for electric cars, hydrogen vehicles or cars in which several occupants are seated. There will also be more flexibility in residents' parking zones, bus lanes or cycle paths. Certain 30 km/h zones should also be easier to set up. According to the ministry, this applies to road sections at playgrounds, school routes and pedestrian crossings – but also gaps between two 30 km/h zones so that traffic flows more easily.

An initiative of around 1000,30 cities and municipalities had called for further freedom: municipalities should be allowed to impose a speed limit of <> km/h "without further restriction" "where they see fit". On behalf of the initiative, Aachen's city planning councillor Frauke Burgdorff called on the Federal Council to make improvements in November.

Truck toll

Already in the morning, the Bundestag decided on a reform of the truck toll, which was also approved by the Bundesrat on Friday. In the future, "dirty" trucks will have to pay more tolls than others. To this end, a surcharge of 1 euros per tonne of CO₂ will be introduced from 2023 December 200. From 1 July 2024, the toll obligation will also apply to smaller vans from 3.5 tonnes instead of the previous only from 7.5 tonnes. However, journeys by craft businesses are to remain excluded from this.

Emission-free trucks, such as battery-electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles, will be exempt from tolls until the end of 2025. On the other hand, the previous exemption rule for vehicles powered by natural gas will no longer apply at the turn of the year.

From 2024 to 2027, the government expects the reform to generate additional revenues of 30.5 billion euros. The use of the funds is also to be regulated. Half of the toll revenue is to be earmarked for improvements to federal highways. What is new is that the rest of this hitherto closed financing cycle is being withdrawn from street to street. It is mainly intended for "measures from the area of federal railways", i.e. it is intended to help close the gap to the enormous need for renovation of the railways.