Hole in accounts of toll-road operators as high as 3.8bn euros

Ministry looking at ways to keep firms from going bankrupt Ferrovial, which operates the R-4 and AP-36 highways, has one billion euros of debt with 20 banks

Nine private toll-road operators are "on the verge of bankruptcy" because of drastic falls in vehicle traffic and low toll-fee intakes, Public Works Ministry figures reveal.

The firms have reported losses of up to 3.8 billion euros from low usage, especially on the "spoke" roads into Madrid. "There have been high costs in maintenance. We were going to invest 640 million but ended up spending 1.5 billion," said José Antonio López Casas, director general of Accesos de Madrid, which operates the R-3 and R-5 highways. "Another issue is that traffic has only been about 35 percent of what was expected."

Ferrovial, which operates the R-4 and AP-36 highways, has one billion euros of debt with 20 banks, and has seen its credit put on hold since June of last year. It is not paying interest on the loans until the government decides what to do to help rescue the ailing toll-road operators.

Other roads that have not met high traffic expectations are the toll highway to Barajas, and the Ocaña-La Roda and Alicante-Cartagena-Vera motorways, which were all planned and developed under the previous Popular Party (PP) government of José María Aznar.

Manel Nadal, former traffic safety director for the Catalan government, said the mistake was designing two systems of roads in Spain, some where tolls are paid and others that are free.

The Public Works Ministry says it is looking for short- to medium-term solutions to help what has become one of the major infrastructure fiascos in Spain. In 2010, the Socialist government offered the toll-road operators soft loans totaling 80 million euros so they could continue to operate.

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