On Wednesday, construction company OHL informed Spain’s markets watchdog, the CNMV, that its units in charge of operating the toll road between central Madrid and Adolfo-Suárez Barajas airport have been put into liquidation by a court.
The same court had already opened up liquidation proceedings in February for the AP-36 toll road between Ocaña and La Roda, which links the provinces of Toledo and Albacete and is mostly devoid of vehicles.
Meanwhile, the R-3 and R-5 radial roads providing toll access to Madrid are in the midst of renegotiating terms with their creditors, while the R-2 and R-4 are also at risk of bankruptcy, as are the Madrid-Toledo and Cartagena-Vera highways.
The Public Works Ministry had claimed that bailing out the toll roads would not cost taxpayers a cent
After searching for years for a solution based on bringing all eight non-performing toll roads together under a public agency and restructuring their €3.5 billion debt, the decision brings the Spanish state closer to having to foot the bill for the entire mess.
This is because the roads were built by private construction companies who used the state as a guarantor to take out bank loans. The investment that was required to expropriate adjoining land and build the roads was expected to be recouped through long concessions. But the economic crisis and the existence of nearby toll-free roads covering the same routes meant that few drivers were willing to pay the premium to use them.
In March 2014, the state was still rushing to close a deal with struggling toll road operators and their creditors in order to prevent their total liquidation.
But now that the companies are filing for bankruptcy, creditors could turn to the state to demand their loans back.
The Public Works Ministry had been saying all along that bailing out the toll roads would not cost taxpayers any money. But it increasingly looks like that will not be the case.
If all eight highways are liquidated, industry experts figure that the state will be facing total payments of around €4.5 billion.
English version by Susana Urra.