The announcement of the possible introduction of tolls on the Via do Infante trans-Algarve motorway has provoked outrage among local businessmen and politicians. The region’s câmaras have also contested the idea, stressing the lack of alternative routes, seasonal fluctuations and the problems it would bring to tourism in the region.
Any attempt to introduce tolls on the A22 Via do Infante motorway would be met with stiff resistance from Macário Correia, the head of the Algarve’s regional governing body, the Grand Metropolitan Area (AMAL). Correia said he categorically opposes any change to the status of the route linking Vila Real de Santo António to Lagos.
The announcement came as it was reported that the government is considering introducing changes to the SCUT highways (a total of 900 kilometres of toll-free roads created under the Socialist government of António Guterres). The government’s decision is based on financial considerations – the toll-free roads have so far cost the exchequer 10.2 billion euros.
Jorge Costa, the Secretary of State for Public Works, explains the government’s problem: “We have to come up with some revenue-wielding measures that can fund the Portuguese Institute of Roads’ budget. By next year, the government will need around 500 million euros to pay the consortia of construction companies and banks that operate the concessionary routes.
“These comprise: the Norte Litoral (near Viana do Castelo), the Interior Norte (between Vila Real and Chaves), the Grande Porto (between Porto and Guimarães), the Costa de Prata (between Porto and Aveiro), the Beiras Litoral e Alta (between Aveiro and Viseu), the Beira Interior (between Castelo Branco and Abrantes) and the Via do Infante in the Algarve.”
It seems that the government believes it is time for road users to make a contribution to the cost of at least some of these roads, although it does not cite tolls as the only way to raise revenue. Costa makes it clear that “a whole host of measures will be considered”. And even if tolls are introduced, this does not necessarily mean that all drivers will be forced to pay. Although the government has not elaborated on the specifics, it is believed that local traffic (for example) could be exempt.
The plan has caused particular concern in the Algarve, where Macário Correia believes that any alterations to the SCUT contract on the 129 kilometre long A22 highway would be “prejudicial to the public interest and injurious to the region’s health”.Correia has also made it clear that a change in policy would break an undertaking given in May this year by the former Minister of Public Works and Transport, Carmona Rodrigues, namely, to keep the A22 toll-free.
Correia, who is also the President of Tavira Câmara, stresses the lack of a viable alternative to the Via do Infante in the region. He also believes that the introduction of tolls on the only road to cross the entire width of the Algarve would actually lead to “higher costs”. Installation of toll systems would be detrimental to the region’s economy and cause “more chaos” on the EN125, as most cars would switch from the Via do Infante. “Accidents would rise and the risk of driving in the Algarve, which is already high, would become even more exacerbated,” he said.
Proposal is “unreasonable”
A similar stance is adopted by the Association of Hotels and Tourist Establishments in the Algarve (AHETA). The association’s head, Elidérico Viegas, considers any amendment to the current situation on the Via do Infante unacceptable. “It would be an attack on the dignity of the Algarve and Algarveans, but I really don’t see how this idea could pass through the heads of any government,” he said. “The question cannot even be considered as a hypothetical one since it is totally unreasonable.”
Socrates rejects tolls
José Socrates, candidate for the leadership of the Socialist Party, has also criticised talk of introducing tolls on the Via do Infante. Socrates made the comments during a meeting with party activists in Faro. “The government wants to resolve the problem of public finance at the expense of the regional development of the country, including the Algarve and other regions,” he comented. Socrates said the Via do Infante does not offer similar facilities to other motorways. “It has more knots and more access routes because of the nature of the region,” he said. He urged the government to generate more income by fighting fraud and fiscal evasion instead of burdening citizens with more costs.