Indignation as tolls debate is re-ignited

AN ADMISSION by Finance Minister, Teixeira dos Santos that tolls may, at some point in the future be introduced on existing SCUT (sem cobrança para o utilizador) toll-free routes, has triggered sharp criticism across the country.

Although Prime Minister José Sócrates said he did not envisage introducing tolls, the government has admitted it is evaluating new ways of financing motorways. The election pledges of the Socialist Party said only that tolls could be introduced in high income zones and only in areas where ways could be found to siphon off traffic.

Local authorities fear that the Via do Infante (A22), that spans the Algarve, would present strong possibilities for tolls because the average income in the region is much greater than the national average.

Macário Correia, president of the Algarve’s Junta Metropolitana (regional assembly), has criticised what he calls “the incoherence” of the government’s policy on tolls. “The Prime Minister promised Algarveans that the Via do Infante (A22) would not have tolls and yet, just six months down the line, the Finance Minister concedes this very possibility. It seems to me there is a lack of clarity in policy.”

Tolls on the Via do Infante are “not viable”

But Elidérico Viegas, the president of Associação dos Hóteis e Empreendimentos Turísticos do Algarve – AHETA (the Algarve association for hotels and resorts), says that he does not believe tolls could be introduced

in the Algarve. Speaking to The Resident, he said the plan would be too expensive because there are more than 20 access routes to the A22. He believes that the financial return on such a huge investment would be insufficient. “You can only introduce tolls on motorways that have credible alternatives and the EN125 is not really an alternative at all. It is just a road with houses and villages and traffic lights,” he told us.

Tolls would reverse election pledge

The leader of the Algarve’s socialist federation, Miguel Freitas, also criticised the suggestion, saying he expected to see election promises fulfilled. “I trust the word of the Prime Minister and his promise was clear: there would be no tolls on the Via do Infante. The A22 is the only infrastructure that permits traffic in the region, because the EN125 does not represent a viable alternative,” he said. Manuel da Luz, socialist president of Portimão Câmara, also declared his implacable opposition to any attempts to introduce tolls on the Via do Infante.

The possible introduction of tolls on SCUT routes has also made local authorities in the Beira Interior apprehensive, because the region is crossed by three toll-free routes, the A23 (Torres Novas-Guarda), the A24 (Viseu-Vila Real) and the A25 (Vilar Formoso- Aveiro).

Many local authorities cited the socialist promise in February not to introduce tolls. But Fernando Ruas, president of Viseu Câmara, said the minister’s declaration was not all that surprising. “We are getting used to the Prime Minister saying one thing and his ministers saying something else”. And a source at Viana do Castelo Câmara said that the imposition of tolls on the A28, on the SCUT route linking Porto to Viana do Castelo, would provoke “a war against the government”.

The maintenance of seven toll-free motorways on SCUT routes represents a total cost of 10.2 billion euros. Only this year the government was envisaging paying 500 million euros to the consortiums responsible for these routes.