Portugal in the fast lane

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

Portugal’s Minister for Public Works and Transport has deflected criticism that the government didn’t have the money for big ticket infrastructure spending.

Addressing economists in Lisbon at a lunch on Monday organised by the Portuguese Order of Economists, António Mendonça said that infrastructure policies could not be divorced from modernisation and development of the country, productivity and competitiveness of its businesses.

He said that while the economic crisis was an ideal time to push forward public works projects, which had already been planned for some years, in order to boost jobs, help small and medium enterprises and kick-start the economy, the government had never lost focus of its short, medium and long term strategic infrastructure priorities, which included the high speed TGV rail link, a new international airport for Lisbon, the upgrading and construction of over 3,000 km of roads and improvement of the country’s railway and port networks.

António Mendonça said that his ministry’s aim was to internationalise the economy and bring its businesses, goods and services closer to global and European markets, which could only be done through an efficient, rapid and modern integrated transport system.

The minister said that the question was not if public transport investments had to be made or not, but how they should be made and thought out to maximise potential benefits to Portuguese and foreign companies, stressing that foreign companies and investors needed to know that Portugal had a technologically advanced infrastructure system for rapid delivery.

He said that by improving the country’s road and rail network, it would be easier for companies to set up in the interior regions of Portugal such as the Alentejo and help attract employment and regeneration in these areas.

But he stressed that while the government, in partnership with private companies through PPPs, could provide a modern transport network, it still depended on how economic agents – which had to assume their responsibilities too – took advantage of these transport facilities.

TGV not a priority

Meanwhile, a former transport minister has warned that Portugal doesn’t have the money or necessity for a high speed rail link.

Speaking on Monday, the same day that the current Minister for Public Works and Transport addressed the Order of Economists on the Government’s programme for large-scale public works between now and 2020, Joaquim Ferreira do Amaral said the country had more pressing problems.

“I don’t believe that the TGV should be priority number one,” and instead suggested that existing key lines serving intermediate cities, such as Viseu and Vila Real, could be upgraded.

The former transport minister was speaking at the ninth National Congress for Rail Transport when he said that he didn’t think it fair to spend such a huge sum of money on the TGV and leave out investment on smaller size cities, which were served by an outdated rail network in need of modernisation and improved services.

The Government’s Strategic Plan for 2010-2020 has earmarked a 30 billion euro investment on public works and infrastructure projects, with one third of that sum going on new motorways and roads.

The TGV includes a link between Lisbon and Porto (4.5 billion euros), Lisbon and Madrid (2 billion euros) and Porto and Vigo (800 million euros), while the new Lisbon International Airport and Beja Regional Airport will cost four billion euros in that period.

Investments on conventional rail network modernisation and metro line extensions total 4.9 billion, while upgrading and extending the nation’s roads will cost 11.2 billion euros.

Other investments include upgrading port facilities (1.2 billion euros) and transport management systems (500 million euros).

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