The eye of the needle in the mountains

Focus on the Brenner Pass and its transport capacities

The Brenner route faces a mountain of problems. These require clever solutions so as not to bring residents to the barricades and harm trade. We take a look at some of the current discussion points.

In the course of the Winter Olympics in Beijing this February, whose gigantism and impact on the environment were criticized, the media also once again came up with Munich's bid, which did not come to fruition. In those four districts earmarked for such a mammoth project, including the district of Traunstein, the majority of the participating people had decided against this project in citizens' referendums. Often heard argument of the opponents: Too harsh interference with nature or also with the already existing infrastructure.

Another Upper Bavarian district, not far from Traunstein, came under the spotlight at the beginning of this year in a similar context - again involving major construction projects. In Ebersberg, the route planning of Deutsche Bahn (DB) for a feeder road to the Brenner Base Tunnel is the subject of heated debate. For example, there was a boycott of a DB dialog forum at the beginning of February because the affected communities did not feel heard. A total of four route variants did not meet with the acceptance of the affected communities.

In view of overcrowded roads or even fully utilized rail corridors in the Alps between Germany, Austria and Italy, for the relief of which the planned Brenner north access south of Munich described above is to be created, the transport routes are groaning under the pressure of transport volumes. The resulting delays jeopardize the connection of important economic areas - be it for imports or exports. At the same time, justified concerns of local residents must be taken into account when their homes are reshaped by transportation infrastructure projects. For all those involved, this often represents the much-described squaring of the circle, which from every perspective can often only produce a minimum compromise as a result. But it was not only this issue that brought the Brenner Pass into focus as an eminently important transport route in Central Europe in the high mountains, which are very difficult and often also very costly to build on.

Truck toll increase under discussion

The payment for the roads used by the trucks and the regulations in the Austrian state of Tyrol, which are perceived as anti-transit measures, are also in the spotlight and require a careful balancing of interests. Which, to put it so clearly, will not be easy.

A toll increase of 50 percent brought into play by the Free State of Bavaria, which is intended to bring trucks from Western Europe and Germany in particular over the Swiss Gotthard Pass rather than the Brenner Pass, will lead to costly customs procedures due to the non-EU membership. Thus, intra-EU transport via the Brenner Pass is likely to continue to be the more enticing alternative. In addition, as one medium summarizes it, "the toll rates (...) cannot be set freely, but are subject to the specifications of the EU infrastructure costs directive." Furthermore, local residents, for example in the Inntal region, who are definitely dependent on these routes for the import and export of goods, would be disadvantaged.

Block clearance and driving bans

In order to cope with the massive transport volume, Tyrol is working with ordinances that are intended to make the traffic flows more coordinable from the point of view of the transit country - and indirectly probably also to make alternative routes appear more attractive. These include the repeatedly mentioned block clearance in the border town of Kufstein, the general ban on nighttime truck driving on the Inn Valley and Brenner routes, and the sectoral driving ban for certain goods.

These measures are in turn classified by the neighbors as contrary to EU law and it is requested that they be discontinued. As the next stage, since member states of the Union are involved, infringement proceedings could be initiated.

Digitization as a way out or a political dead end?

In Italy, on the other hand, there has been a push by the governor of South Tyrol to present the concept of a "digitized Brenner highway" to his national government in Rome. With a bonus-malus system that favors lower-polluting trucks in particular - also thanks to digital load management. In view of the rather negative assessments of the Italian transport companies, which fear for their competitiveness, the first reactions from Italy's capital to this plan were also classified as rather restrained.

It will remain exciting to see what will happen on one of the most important north-south axes in the heart of Europe. Both in terms of the very high freight volume in everyday life, but also in terms of infrastructure projects, including the Brenner Base Tunnel, which is planned for 2032, and the political component of cross-border goods traffic.

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