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Reader question on road privatisation

Ministry of Transport and autoroute companies body ASFA clarify positions following reports that more of France's road network could go private

A reader contacted Connexion to ask about French press reports claiming that certain major roads in France may be privatised.

French public service media France Info reported on possible privatisation plans at the end of March, after uncovering a 2014 briefing paper on the subject. It has since been reported by several French media outlets.

We contacted the Ministry of Transport and the Association des sociétés françaises d’autoroutes (ASFA), which represents all autoroute companies – and both dismissed the suggestion.

Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne’s office told Connexion that she was opposed to the idea of privatising routes nationales - main roads maintained by the State, as opposed to routes départementales and routes communales, which are maintained by departments under regional oversight, and communes.

A Ministry official said in an email that the privatisation idea had been floated “for years” as a way of prolonging the 40-year contracts for autoroutes.

However, “it is definitely not a government plan,” the official said.

Companies running French autoroutes went further, describing reports that they might take over parts of the route nationale network in France as “fake news”.

“To say that we want to take over routes nationales is simply wrong, it is fake news,” a spokeswoman for ASFA said.

“What our president said was that, if the government wants to privatise new autoroutes, either by selling off the bits of the autoroute network which are not in private management, or by upgrading routes nationales to autoroute standard, then our members will be willing to respond to government tenders.”

She added: “The government has made no announcements about doing so, and so we are puzzled about where this taking over routes nationales came from, and why it has been blown up they way it has.”

Part of the confusion may have arisen because a government committee set up in 2018 by the ecology ministry and public accountants has been looking at all questions concerning the national road network – including stretches of autoroute not under private management, usually found close to large towns and cities, often including the ring roads around them.

The Transport Ministry asked the committee to examine the reality of how any proposals might be implemented – notably with regard to legal and technical issues over hypothetical propositions on the transfer of parts of the road network to other bodies.

“However, first elements of this mission show that no large transfer to the autoroute network is attractive or possible because they will extend for a number of years contracts which do not work in favour of the state,” the Transport Ministry’s email to Connexion said.

The email concluded that the government had unlocked €100 million for urgent work on the route nationale network in France in 2018, and planned to increase spending on the road network by 31% over 10 years as part of mobility laws now being discussed by parliament.

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