By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]
Tolls are to be introduced on April 15 next year on four more Portuguese toll-free motorways or SCUTS, including the Via do Infante in the Algarve.
However, a regime of “positive discrimination” will remain in force for some residents and businesses near the roads, who need to use it for work reasons, through toll exemptions until June 2012.
This originally related to people living and companies based within a 10km radius of the three SCUT motorways whose tolls were announced in 2009 – Costa da Prata, Grande Porto, and Norte Litoral –and includes motorists in the Algarve.
The pledge was given by the Minister for Public Works, António Mendonça, on leaving a meeting of the Council of Ministers last week where government ministers voted through the new deadlines for the end of toll-free roads in Portugal.
Introducing tolls on SCUT roads, many of them in the north of the country and along the Silver Coast, has proved a controversial and divisive measure opposed by lorry driver and haulier associations, local chambers of commerce and business associations who claim it will push up the costs of their goods from source to market.
After June 2012 the Algarve’s Via do Infante will become the first SCUT road without what the Government calls any kind of “positive discrimination” since that regime for exemptions will only remain in place for “disadvantaged regions”.
In order to qualify for SCUT exemptions the region will have to prove that it registers less than 80 per cent of the average national GDP per capital.
The President of the Algarve Hotels and Tourism Establishment Association, Associação de Hotéis e Empreendimentos Turisticos do Algarve, AHETA, slammed the decision.
Elidérico Viegas called it “irresponsibility on all levels” which “shows a complete lack of knowledge as to the economic and social realities in the region”.
“I hope that the residents of the Algarve unite in protest, as they did in the past when the Government suggested it would introduce tolls on the Via do Infante,” he added, referring to the region’s largest ever demonstration.
The AHETA president argued that “neither the Via do Infante nor the Estrada Nacional EN125, the alternative to the A22, could be considered motorways that deserved to have tolls”.
The President of Algarve Tourism, Nuno Aires, criticised the introduction of tolls on the Via do Infante as “not positive for the region” because it was a “fundamental highway for locals and tourists in the region and for the companies that worked in the tourism industry”.
Toll charges on three SCUTS in the north, Costa da Prata, Grande Porto and North Coast, announced in 2009, will begin on October 15.
The four others in the country, Interior Norte, Beiras Litoral e Alta, Beira Interior and Via do Infante, will start charging on April 15, 2011, depending on how negotiations with concessionary companies go.
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