THOUSANDS of kilometres of toll roads are under threat of closure as the companies that own them teeter on the brink of bankruptcy.
Thanks to the country’s recession, the stream of paying drivers has now slowed to a trickle.
Like the unsustainable housing bubble and the speculation-fueled phantom airports, the folly of Spain’s road-building boom is now too being laid bare in vast stretches of under-used tarmac.
“It’s no surprise, we built thousands of kilometres of motorways on routes that did not have the traffic to justify them,” explained Paco Segura, a transport specialist at Ecologists in Action.
“There has not just been a real estate bubble, but also one in infrastructure, in airports and in motorways.”
His comments come after highway company Accesos de Madrid, admitted two roads Radial 3 and Radial 5 are in danger of shutting.
“Right now we can’t meet our debt repayments. We are in the hands of the judge,” admitted director Jose Antonio Lopez. “Where there were supposed to be 35,000 vehicles a day, there are 10,000.”
His company is not the first, with the bosses of the Madrid to Toledo toll road going into receivership last May and five other companies following suit since.
It is anything but a surprise, says Segura, who claims the traffic between Madrid and the city of Toledo, about 80km away, receives 11% of the traffic its developers expected.
“Nearly all the motorways going bust are getting less than 40% of the traffic they planned for when they were built,” he said.
Boss of Accesos de Madrid agrees: “Too much infrastructure was built, no doubt about it. Much of it turned out to be no use.”
Indeed, in the first quarter of 2012, with Spain in recession, motorway traffic fell by 8.2% from a year earlier, hitting its lowest level since 1998, the transport ministry said.
Lopez added: “It has happened with the motorways, it has happened with the airports. Sooner or later we will find it is also happening with the high-speed trains.”