Germany’s Autobahn: Dream or nightmare?

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Published on June 13, 2021 by

The German Autobahn is every lead foot’s dream. No speed limit, where you can really let rip. That’s the cliché anyway. The reality? Traffic jam after traffic jam.
Driving before the pandemic meant spending roughly 120 hours per year in one. That’s 5 full days.
The cause? Accidents of course. And seemingly endless construction sites.
Well over 100 construction projects are planned for German highways by 2025 alone.
The problem is the infrastructure, which is old and in a sorry state.
Damaged roads, crumbling bridges – maintaining the road network will cost an estimated 4.5 billion euros this year alone.
Add to that the heavy truck traffic. These vehicles are often the reason for traffic jams. And they also damage the roads.
Kilometers a year, crisscrossing the entire country. And the very large haulers alone cover around 20 billion kilometers a year, crisscrossing the entire country.
So what’s the solution?
There are new types of road surfacing more resistant to heavy loads.
But is that the right approach? There’s the ‘small’ matter affecting all of humanity, remember? Climate change.
13,000 kilometers of Autobahn in Germany – that’s a lot of space for solar panels. On bridges and hard shoulders for instance. But so far, these are only model projects.
What really would do a lot for the environment is finding an alternative to road transport.
From the mix of pipelines, inland waterways, freight trains, and trucks – trucks move the largest share of freight in Germany. But they also emit the most CO2 per ton.
Plans are aimed at boosting the share of rail freight to at least 25 percent by 2030. But Germany’s neighbors seem to have found better solutions. And they have other ideas, too: The Swiss are currently looking into the possibility of bringing goods to cities without the use of trucks or trains. “Cargo sous terrain” (or underground cargo) is an automated transport tunnel system. It would still have to be built though.
Goods transportation would then function much like the pneumatic tube mail system from the 1890’s
But in practice: How do you get companies to switch from road to rail?
So would fewer trucks on the roads mean speeding along Germany’s autobahns again? Not necessarily.
So bye-bye Autobahn clichés. A change of course is inevitable in transport policy – and slowing down would at least be a good start.

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