In times of budgetary restrictions, which have hit investment on public works particularly hard, Catalonia is about to see the inauguration of two top-flight projects: the increase from two lanes to four of the 153 kilometers of the Eix Transversal (transversal axis) highway, which runs from east to west across Catalonia, and is already in operation; and Tuesday’s opening of the AVE high-speed train line from Barcelona to the French border, which represents a further step in breaking Spain’s long-standing curse of isolation from the rest of Europe. These two works are rather different in scope and consequences.
The increased lanes on the highway affects, above all, road haulage, and the mobility of residents within Catalonia.
The AVE, meanwhile, will reach the French border after a nine-year delay and 30 years of haggling. While on the French side the high-speed lines are still 300 kilometers away, the users of the train will see some improvement in traveling time to destinations such as Paris, Bern and Milan.
On the other hand, the news is highly relevant for freight trains, which can now travel from Spain to Central Europe without the time needed to change the rail gauge at Portbou on the border.
Now all that is left is the completion of the port access at Barcelona, after which it will be able to compete on equal terms with the ports of Marseille and Genoa, and thus contribute to the improvement of the Catalan and industrial network, and that of Spain in general.
In the case of the Eix Transversal, the shortcoming seems to have been a certain lack of reflexes, since the highway became obsolete — or rather overcrowded — soon after its inauguration. The initial forecasts indicated that 10,000 vehicles would use the road every day 10 years after it first went into use, but in fact this figure was reached in the first few months.
Doing the same job twice
Whereas in the case of the AVE line to the French border there was a clear failure to complete the various stages of the work in time, in the second case there was a clear lack of foresight. In the inaugural speech, regional premier Artur Mas said that the Catalans do things better when they do them by themselves — that is, without the involvement of the Spanish government. He forgot to add that, in this case, they have had to do them twice.
Apart from these bumps in the road, both inaugurations are good news, in that they provide better connections for the territory of Catalonia and for the whole of Spain, and sound a positive note in a time of economic slump.
The highway has been financed by the regional administration; the high-speed train line by the central government. Artur Mas and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy can both stand tall, but they should not lose sight of the fact that the average citizen cares little who is responsible for the construction. What matters is its smooth functioning, and its impact on the future, because what contributes to the progress of Catalonia does the same for that of Spain. And vice versa.