Miquel Valls, chairman of Barcelona’s Chamber of Commerce, began his press conference by saying that he would be talking about the “never-ending story”. Indeed, the infrastructure deficit in Catalonia —particularly in the Barcelona area— is both historic and shocking. Catalonia’s road network and railway services do not match its economic potential within Spain. Somewhat indignant, Miquel Valls warned that “we are choking economic growth due to a lack of infrastructures in the greater Barcelona area”.
During the recession, these shortcomings were less apparent, but with the economic recovery, the seams look ready to burst, according to the Chamber. As an example, they mention the story that this newspaper ran on Saturday about traffic congestion, explaining how a 3.3 per cent mobility jump in two years has resulted in a 75 per cent increase in congestion and traffic jams.
Priorities: the commuter railway network, the Mediterranean Corridor, the Fourth Beltway and access to Barcelona’s port
For that reason Miquel Valls urged the incoming governments in Madrid and Barcelona to “take a stand” and reactivate infrastructure investments in the Catalan capital and its greater metropolitan area in order to ensure that it remains competitive. “This issue must find its way back into the political agenda”, he argued. Among many others, the Chamber’s most urgent priorities are these four: the commuter railway network, the Mediterranean Corridor, the Fourth Beltway and access to Barcelona’s port.
The most important projects to alleviate Barcelona’s clogged commuter lines would be the tunnel in l’Hospitalet and the Torrassa exchange. On the subject of the Mediterranean Railway Corridor, they demanded that the European gauge be adopted and a firm commitment to a specific calendar for the stretch between Castellbisbal and Tarragona, which is progressing very slowly. About the Fourth Beltway, they insisted that the Viladecavalls-Olesa segment be completed and asked for a new engineering study on the Terrassa-Sabadell stretch, as the existing one is now dated. As for access to Barcelona’s port they asked Madrid and Barcelona to resolve the technical issues that have ground the works to a halt, even though its funding has already been taken care of.
Where will the cash come from? Once high-speed train investments have been completed
The chairman of the Chamber believes that investments must be prioritised in terms of cost vs benefit, as well as their financial profitability and social benefits, by encouraging collaboration between the public and private sectors and by improving the coordination between the various administrations involved.
So how will we get all the cash that Spain’s Ministry for Infrastructure has failed to provide so far? Cristian Bardají, the Chamber’s director of infrastructure projects, mentioned that all outstanding AVE projects (Spain’s high speed railway) have already been budgeted for and scheduled, so funding will become available in the coming years “to make the necessary investments in Barcelona’s metropolitan area”.
“Just like Andalusia’s historic debt was paid off, we demand that the State’s debt with Catalonia” —which stems from the Catalan Statute’s third additional provision which Spanish president Zapatero stopped paying at the end of his term because of the recession— “be paid, too; this amounts to €4bn”, noted Miquel Valls. The Chamber estimates that €4bn would easily pay for the four projects which they have set as the main priorities. When asked if there was much future for the Chamber’s demands, given the current hostility between Madrid and Barcelona, the chairman replied that “we are merely pointing out the historic lack of investment and do not wish to discuss the political reasons for it”.
PIMEC joins in the complaint. The employers’ group slams the delays in the building of the Mediterranean Railway Corridor
The very same day that the Chamber raised its voice to draw media attention to how the lack of infrastructures makes the Catalan economy less competitive, PIMEC —a small and medium-sized employers’ group— published a new report denouncing “Madrid’s lack of political will to go ahead with a key infrastructure for the economy: the Mediterranean Railway Corridor”. PIMEC believes that the delays and pitfalls in the construction of this line —which is meant to improve trade between Europe, Africa and Asia and boost the economy in the Mediterranean— have slowed down the activity and the internationalisation of small and medium-sized companies.