How dilapidated bridges threaten the economy

How dilapidated bridges threaten the economy

How broken bridges cause an entire region to collapse can currently be observed around Lüdenscheid. The Rahmedetal Bridge has been closed since December 2, 2021. Then it took until May 7, 2023 until it was blown up. The closure of the affected stretch of motorway will last for several years. The traffic chaos since then has not only been hard on the people. The economy suffers too. And so an entire region is threatened with decoupling from the rest of the country.

May 2023: The bridge over the Rahmedetal near Lüdenscheid in North Rhine-Westphalia is blown up. At this point in time, the important traffic artery has been closed for almost a year and a half.

Permanent traffic jam threatens the existence

Test drives have been a matter of luck for car mechanic Timo Hölscher for more than a year and a half. When the trucks are backed up for kilometers in front of the family business in Lüdenscheid, which he runs together with his wife Sophia, he can hardly test drive his customers’ cars. If his customers make the arduous journey to him at all.

This is life-threatening. The Hölschers even had to think about giving up their home and moving into a rented apartment. Between 30 and 35 percent sales losses and massive worries about their future have also left their mark on health. The robust car mechanic Hölscher became seriously ill for the first time in his life: he suffered a heart attack.

Because of the bridge construction site in Rahmedetal, which will continue for years to come, traffic is regularly backed up for many kilometers – a burden for local residents and the regional economy.

Bridges as risk factors

The authors of the study “Risk Factor Bridges” see the reason for the problems of the Hölschers – and countless other family and industrial companies in the Sauerland – in a gross neglect of the infrastructure. On behalf of seven Rhenish chambers of industry and commerce, the Institute for Roads at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen has reassessed all bridges in the Rhineland.

The sober result: Of the several thousand bridges in total, 650 were badly damaged and 350 were even badly damaged. In other words, these bridges have reached the end of their useful lives.

Every day of construction delay costs a lot of money

For Dirk Kemper, traffic scientist at RWTH Aachen University, the impending failure of many bridges poses a significant risk for the economy – not only for the Rhineland region, but for the Federal Republic as a whole.

Christian Kestermann from the German Economic Institute (IW) calculated how high the costs can be based on the Rahmedetal Bridge in Lüdenscheid: a whopping 1.8 billion euros. The economist first calculated the delay costs. These are the costs that arise when trucks and cars have to divert to other motorways. According to the study, they amount to at least 1.2 billion euros.

In addition, Kestermann expects a further 600 million euros in site costs, which threaten the region of South Westphalia due to declining economic attractiveness. Not included in the 1.8 billion euros are the financial losses for companies in the region like that of the Hölschers. And: Every day that the construction time is extended, Kestermann calculates, costs the economy an additional million euros. The time factor is therefore essential in every bridge renovation.

“Approval can not take ten years”

The speed is also relevant for the traffic expert Kemper. “We have to shorten the planning processes. It can’t be that we need ten years for approval for a bridge renovation.” In addition, the construction projects would also have to be implemented more quickly, for example through standardized processes and prefabricated components. “We simply cannot afford that every bridge is an architectural masterpiece,” says Kemper.

Since January 1, 2021, the Autobahn GmbH des Bundes has been responsible for the planning, construction, operation, maintenance and financing of all federal autobahns, including the autobahn bridges. Previously, the responsibilities were distributed among the 16 federal states. Autobahn GmbH, which acts on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport, wants to renovate 400 motorway bridges every year from 2026: an ambitious but important goal. At the moment it does not even manage half of the necessary renovations.

Traffic chaos could have been avoided

An example from Aachen: According to Autobahn GmbH, it has been “a certainty for a number of years” that the Haarbach Viaduct on the A544 will have to be replaced by a new building. But one thing is also certain: If we had reacted earlier, a new building would not have been necessary at all. Trade and industry in the region are massively critical, because the impending traffic chaos could have been avoided.

There is another example in Krefeld: the Uerdinger Bridge, built in 1936 and over which the B288 leads, can no longer withstand the heavy traffic and will probably also have to be demolished. It takes at least twelve years for a new bridge to be built. For Patrick Wisotzky, the managing director of the Rhine port of Krefeld, a medium-sized catastrophe, because “the regional economy is dependent on a functioning Rhine crossing”.

In May, the federal cabinet passed an infrastructure acceleration law. According to this, the permit requirement for bridges that are to be expanded in the course of the renovation will no longer apply – as will the obligation to carry out an environmental impact assessment. This should halve the entire planning and approval period.


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