The Minister for Public Works, António Mexia, has admitted that, although residents in the Algarve will not pay the tolls when they are initially introduced on the A22 Via do Infante, “in reality, this could change in the future”.
Speaking after a meeting with local business groups and câmaras, he commented: “At the end of the day, we need to solve a serious problem that is the result of a decision that is questionable with regards to public justice.” His words were seen as a clear swipe at the former PS administration and their alleged strategy of building roads and worrying about the cost of maintenance at a later date.
Mexia was adamant that the government would not back down from last week’s decision to install tolls on the Via do Infante. The Minister made it clear that, “in principle, it is decided, but both the way in which this is done and all the details of the implementation are still to be negotiated and the system studied”. He confirmed that the details would be worked out by March next year.
At the end of the long meeting, the President of the Junta Metropolitana do Algarve (JMAL), Macário Correia, reaffirmed the regional câmaras’ united position on the payment of tolls on the Via do Infante. “It makes us feel that the rules of the game are being changed halfway through the match,” he claimed.
The meeting also involved several of the region’s business groups, all of whom are totally focused on their opposition to the tolls. Vítor Neto, President of NERA, the Algarve Business Association, spoke on behalf of the five business associations present, the other four being CEAL, AIHSA, ACRAL and AHETA, and accused the minister of having “difficulty in understanding the complex economic importance of tourism for the region”.
“Through tourism, the Algarve has generated enough wealth to pay for the Via do Infante and it is already paid for,” he underlined. He also emphasised the fact that the introduction of tolls will cause traffic jams on the EN125, “which will become completely paralysed” and increase costs for companies in the Algarve, thereby reducing their competitiveness.
PS launches petition as PSD
bids for investment
Meanwhile, members of the Algarve branch of the Socialist Party are so incensed at the decision to install toll booths that they are launching a public petition to present at parliament, which, they say, represents the “voice of the Algarveans”. They claim that there will be a return to the horror of deaths and accidents on the EN125 should the tolls on the Via do Infante go ahead, and reiterate the argument that the Via do Infante has already been paid for by the Algarvean people “in direct taxes and via the wealth generated by companies and in fuel taxes”.
The government has already announced a possible 240 million euro road improvement package for the region, in a bid to soften the blow of A22 tolls. And the ruling PSP party reacted to the latest uproar with a further sweetener in the shape of another major investment – this time in a variety of transport projects relating to the Algarve’s railway, roads and rivers.
PSD MP, Álvaro Viegas, put forward a parliamentary resolution that the next Quadro Comunitário de Apoio (QCA) project to be proposed for European Community funding “must focus on the improvement of the Algarve’s towns, human resources and tourism”. He is proposing technical research centres for Castro Marim, Faro and Tunes and pushing the idea of “improving the navigability of the Arade and Guadiana rivers to make tourist cruises possible.” Viegas also believes that the refurbishment of the railway is essential for the Algarve, because at the moment, “it does not serve towns like Lagoa, Albufeira, Quarteira, Vilamoura, the airport or the university”.
According to the MP, “the future of the Algarve should be defined in a Strategic Plan, associated with a financial programme in conjunction with the PROTAL project for the Algarve region”.
Viegas also reminded the Algarve of the existence of the PROALGARVE (QCA III) development plans. He reiterated that over 730 million euros had been earmarked for regional improvements between the period 2000 and 2006 and that a total of 31 projects, with a global value of 524.8 million euros, have already been approved. The Social Democrat explained that the major slice of the investment was “for the environment, and for improved access to and renovation of urban zones – two areas which have been a growing concern for Algarvean câmaras”.
Finally, the MP underlined the fact that several major projects will be completed by the end of 2006, including the POLIS projects to remodel and develop various areas in Silves and Albufeira, the tourism museum at Albufeira, the multi-purpose pavilion at Parque das Cidades, the bioparque at Monchique and the new industrial park for Tavira.
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