The MP-203 highway in Madrid was meant to be a busy bit of asphalt. The intention was to ease traffic congestion on a stretch of the A-2 highway to Barcelona between Alcalá de Henares and the capital. But the MP-203, after an investment of 70 million euros between 2005 and 2007 by Cintra, the company contracted to build it, is today a road without end, winding pointlessly into the arid Iberian scrub.
The last six years have converted the grand design into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. "We are witnessing another example of an alarming lack of planning, in which infrastructure with 70 percent of its 12.5 kilometers constructed suddenly ends in a pile of sand. Spain is different," said UPyD spokesman Luis de Velasco in the regional assembly, ironically quoting the old 1960s tourism advertising slogan.
The Popular Party regional government of Esperanza Aguirre tendered the contract in 2005. Cintra lodged the winning bid to operate the toll road for 30 years. Its mission was to connect the M-203 and the A-2 at one extremity, and the M-208 and the R-3 at the other. But in 2007 tools were downed on the project. The vice-secretary for transport in Madrid, Borja Carabante, explains: "The infrastructure was an important link in the highway system and we did everything we could to correct the deficiencies in the project concerning authorization and permits. One, to create the pass beneath the Madrid-Barcelona AVE line and two, the connection with the R-3."
The deputy claims there were "permanent boycotts" by the central government and the Public Works Ministry in issuing permits. "We had no cooperation from Adif, which manages the rail line, from the department that has to authorize the connection, nor from the R-3, which is run under a Public Works concession. Quite the opposite," says Carabante. De Velasco adds that although a fix was found for the rail-link problem, "there is no way to connect with the R-3."
The worst thing is that this obstacle was known about from day one"
"The worst thing is that this obstacle was known about from day one," said Loreto Ruiz de Alda, a regional UPyD deputy. "When the project was still at the public information stage, the R-3 raised objections." UPyD believes the ministry did not issue authorization for the link because Accesos de Madrid, which runs the R-3 toll road "would suffer an economic deterioration, which the regional government would have to cover."
In spite of everything, work on the road commenced. Cintra noted that an agreement was required on the part of the regional government while the Madrid administration argued the concessionaire was responsible for obtaining the necessary permits. Cintra is now seeking the cancelation of the contract "because for six years work has been paralyzed and cannot advance because of various formalities that impede the fulfillment of the contract."
The company's move came in response to a letter from Carabante last October giving the contractor two months to restart work. In response, Cintra asked that the contract be torn up. In February, the constructor was again given a month by the Madrid authority to restart work on the highway "on the understanding that it is the sole responsibility of the concessionaire." Damages of five million euros were also sought.
"It is a problem that has been festering for years on the desks of various director generals and councilors and that nobody has been able to make a decision about. It was left up to the contractor to finally put an end to it," said Ruiz de Alda, whose party fears the taxpayer will be picking up the tab. However, the regional government has said the "infrastructure will not cost the public coffers a single euro."