Hundreds of protestors came together on Sunday (May 7) to blockade one of France’s most-used motorways to protest plans for an extension to create a bypass for Rouen.
A number of groups including the controversial radical ecologists Soulèvements de la Terre (Earth Uprising), joined forces to block the A13 – also known as the Autoroute de Normandie – causing traffic jams of up to 4km long.
The day before saw a meeting of over 1,000 people in Rouen to denounce the plans, including residents campaigning against the expansion and politicians from both the PS (Socialist Party) and EELV (Green) parties.
The motorway is to be expanded over 40km – at an estimated cost of around €1billion – connecting it to the A28 and bypassing Rouen, but many residents and ecologists oppose the plan that will see woodland close to the city destroyed.
Alongside blocking the motorway, a number of protestors also entered forested areas marked for destruction to disrupt future construction, including hammering nails into trees to make it difficult for chainsaws to be used on them.
Why is the motorway being expanded?
The A13 motorway currently runs between Paris and Caen but new plans will see an offshoot connect the motorway to the northern A28, allowing those driving north to bypass the city of Rouen via a 41.5km expansion.
Proponents of the project say it will bring development opportunities to the east of Rouen, and up to 30,000 vehicles will use the route per day.
“Rouen remains the only French metropolis of this size without a road bypass," said the prefecture in 2021.
"This results in a significant flow of heavy goods vehicles in the urban area,” it added. It said it hoped to reduce this and improve quality of life for residents and drivers through the expansion, which is set to be finished in 2024.
Below you can see the planned expansion of the motorway and the bypass:
Controversially, though, the plans will include destruction of swathes of the Bord forest close to the city to build the road, much to the chagrin of ecologists and (some) residents.
The Soulèvements de la Terre group – that Interior Minister Gérald Darminan wants to disband – said they have been planning for months to disrupt the motorway project, and that this was only the beginning.
A range of ecological tactics
On Sunday, the motorway was only blocked by protestors briefly – they brought debris from the nearby forest to block the road – but the disruption caused severe delays.
Traffic jams stretched around 4km long towards Paris, and 3km the other direction for those venturing deeper into Normandy, as officials worked to clear the debris.
NOUVEAU FIL : ENVAHISSEMENT DE l'#A13 pour lui mettre des bâtons dans les routes !— Les Soulèvements de la Terre (@lessoulevements) May 7, 2023
Après avoir traversé la forêt de Bord puis la nationale, les manifestant-es se sont équipés de bâtons et ont investi l'autoroute pour contester le projet de la future #A133A134 ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/qvxMBsTQwf
This was not the only tactic employed by the ecologists, however, who say they are committed to a drawn-out conflict with the government.
Some protestors introduced a species (a long-horned beetle) classified as ‘vulnerable’ to the area, as well as adapting the environment to increase biodiversity and encourage other endangered species to make the forest their home, creating an environmental roadblock to the expansion.
Protestors also branded trees with official markings to say they should not be cut down to confuse future workers over the legitimacy of previously branded trees.
They also drove hundreds of nails into tree trunks in an attempt to make cutting them down more difficult.
Nails driven into trees can damage - and even destroy - chainsaws used against them.
The organisation says it had warned of the action in advance, however, and use nails with heads that are visible to prevent injury to workers.
The introduction of nails into trunks also makes sawmills less likely to purchase the wood (for fear of damaging their tools), creating a distribution backlog as resources cannot be moved away.