Thousands march against new motorway project in south-west France

The protest was the latest opposition movement against the controversial project

The A69 motorway project has long been the subject of intense demonstrations and opposition

Thousands of people marched against the controversial A69 motorway in south-west France at the weekend, two months after the last demonstration in Toulouse (Occitanie).

The local prefecture said there were 1,500 people present on Sunday, April 21, while organisers claimed that 5,000 took to the streets in protest against the motorway, which has faced major opposition for years. The march was peaceful and no incidents were reported.

The march included campaigners - including those from Attac, Extinction Rebellion, La Voie est Libre, Greenpeace, the CGT union, and the Green party - association representatives, local residents, families, and ministers who oppose the project.

All called for construction on the motorway to be halted, saying that better alternative options exist.

Protester placards featured messages including: "Stop the damage. Long live the bus, the train, the bicycle", "Less growth, more happiness", and "They have the concrete, we have the floor".

One speaker at the event said: “This motorway will never happen.”

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One resident said: “We live along the route and we don't want this motorway or the tarmac factories associated with it. There are other solutions, such as upgrading the N126, that could happen instead. So yes, we support this movement.”

Foot protesters were also joined by cyclists, who had left Castres nine days earlier and ceremoniously arrived in Toulouse city centre during the action. Their bike journey was a symbolic way to show that “another way is possible”, protesters said.

Pierre Déaux, from the La Voie est Libre action group, said: “We left Castres nine days ago. We have lobbied to defend our ‘another way’ project, which we launched four months ago. And then we [rode] in stages to thank everyone who has supported us in this fight.”

Previous protests against the motorway include the building of a concrete wall in the middle of a national road, and opponents attempting to occupy the project.

Read also: French chateau owner heartbroken over motorway planned 300m away 

In February, environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg even attended one of the protests.

Economic vs environmental concerns 

A map of the planned route on the controversial A69 motorway from Toulouse to Castres

Construction has begun on the motorway, which will link Castres to Toulouse (Atosca)

Proponents of the motorway say that it is a question of economic survival” for the south of Tarn, but critics say it will be environmentally disastrous and superfluous to existing route options.

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Opponents are also unhappy with the suggested €17 péage charge for a return journey on the new route, which they have called a “racket”. Campaigners are also calling for improvements to be made to the existing road instead of the construction of a new one.

Atosca response

Project owner Atosca has not disagreed with those who are warning of the environmental impact of the road, and the government has also said that environmental concerns have been taken into account.

Martial Gerlinger, managing director of the company, said: “We are taking note of the recommendations and are improving our plans.”

He said that the A69 would “rise to the challenges of sustainable, low-carbon transport”, and would include a range of environmentally-friendly measures, including the building of 16 charging stations for electric cars, and 200 “engineering structures” to enable wildlife to cross.