GB No. 2(13)/94
There are currently 22,000 km of motor highways in Europe, and there are plans to build another 20,000 km by the year 2000. We have 257 km of highways in Poland. There are plans to build an additional 2600 km of motor highways -- Gdańsk-Gorzyce near Rybnik (A-1), Swiecko-Terespol (A-2), Szczecin-Lubawka (A-3), Zgorzelec-Medyka(A-4), Wroclaw-Lódz (A-8), and Olszyna-Krzyzowa (A-12) -- in the next 10-15 years. The State cannot afford to build highways out of its budget so it wants to license Polish and foreign firms to build them. The State will pay about 15% -- the value of the land for the highways. This means that no profits from highways are likely to go into the State budget for the next 30 years.
In the 1980's, about 4000 km of roads were modernized in Poland each year. Last year only 500 km were modernized. More than 30% of roads are in urgent need of renovation. Only 16% of Polish roads is in good condition. More than 20% of roads have so called "difficult conditions of traffic," which means more than 5000 cars in twenty-four hours. Building 1 km of new highway costs 3 million dollars.
In the future, 6000 km of highways and express roads with a speed limit of 120 km per hour will be built in Poland. Fuel consumption at such a speed is higher than at a constant speed of 70-90 km/h. To decrease fuel consumption, highways have easy curves and long stretches of straight road. According to some sources the result is that global fuel consumption (given the same number of cars) decreases. Construction of highways shortens the time of a journey. Because of this, the car becomes a more attractive means of transport and is used more often. In fact, the number of cars -- and therefore, fuel consumption -- increase. Energy-intensive transportation will increase even more in the long run. The construction of motor highways absorbs an enormous amount of money which could be used in a different way: to supply the needs for transport much better, to create more places of employment, to avoid destruction of the environment, and to increase the energetic efficiency of transport.
According to several studies, the building of motor highways causes a decrease in global fuel consumption on a stretch of road by as much as 20%. This is a very misleading statistic, however, because it refers to the amount of traffic that an ordinary road gets. Other studies have shown that building motor highways is a direct cause of the fast-increasing motor traffic. According to American sources, motor traffic on highways increases much faster than on ordinary roads. It causes a permanent increase in fuel consumption and pollution emissions. A train on the same route with the same freight and the same speed uses much less energy than the most modern car. A train takes up less space per passenger, does not pollute the environment as much, and does not make so much noise.
According to the Worldwatch Institute, building motor highways is also not too good from a social point of view. For 1 billion German marks spent on the construction of motor highways, 14,000-19,000 places of employment are created in the whole economy. Building railways for the same amount of money creates 22,000 places of employment. Motor highways compete with railways, and they must cause a reduction of employment in the Polish State Railways. Already even bulk loads are being transported by cars for various reasons, railway lines are being liquidated, and railway workers are being dismissed.
The Government of Poland promises new places of employment during the building motor highways. It is worth knowing that, according to data from the Greater London Council, creating new places of employment for building new roads costs about 30,000 pounds, while repairing existing roads costs only 12,000 pounds. Every Polish enthusiast of motorization would prefer good, safe roads in his own neighbourhood to good, safe roads intended for German and Russian transit and paid for partly from his taxes.
Building motor highways causes irreversible environmental changes. To transport 23,000 passengers in one hour, a 16-lane motorway is needed -- or a single railway track. There is permanent traffic on motor highways as opposed to railway lines. The traffic disrupts the migration of animals and causes the immediate vicinity to be polluted with exhaust gases and noise. Experience from the Kraków-Chrzanów highway shows that there are at least the same number of accidents on a motor highway as on comparable roads with a lower speed limit.
Travelling by train is faster and more comfortable than by car and does not depend on road conditions. The latest generation of trains -- not only the French TGV, but also the German ICE or Swedish X2000 -- go over 200 km/h. You can eat dinner, watch TV, prepare for an important meeting, or even send a fax on a train. The average Pole associates railways with disorder, dirt, and stink. But the standard of Western railways and stations is comparable to that of the best airlines. You can rent a car at the station (some people choose a bike which is often faster and more comfortable), or transfer to a train or bus which will take you to your final destination. In this way, travels become less energy-intensive. The policy of Holland is a model. They have plans to decrease the number of cars from 8 to 5 million over the next 20 years by promotion and development of public transport and bicycling. Containerization of transport of goods makes convenient "door to door" deliveries possible. It decreases the use of cars and pollution.
Building motor highways eats up the money which is lacking to develop railways which are faster, more energy-efficient, and more friendly to the environment and to passengers. Poland has a fine network of railway lines. Investing in the railway will better allow the use of existing technology and human resources and will lead to a safer environment. There are no rational reasons for digging along the length and breadth of Poland, for cutting down the forests, and for paving the entire country with concrete. There are, of course, companies which are eager to sell as many cars or as much fuel as possible. However, increasing automobile traffic and fuel consumption will overburden our environment and our budget. Firms that want to build motor highways can build railways as well. New places of employment will be created and -- even more importantly -- old ones will be kept. Energy consumption will decrease and the environment will not be destroyed.
It is worth remembering that new economic theories put extraction and exhaustion of non-renewable resources on the cost side of the equation when balancing the national budget. The exploitation of non-renewable resources is not sustainable (you can't have your cake and eat it, too) and it is environmentally devastating. For example, excessive amounts of CO2 emitted by cars build up in the atmosphere and may lead to costly climatic changes -- droughts, hurricanes, and floods. Several experts have estimated that the price of petrol in Germany should be a few times higher in order to cover the real environmental pollution costs caused by cars. This is bound to be felt eventually by the taxpayer. This way of figuring is already used in Holland and is recommended by the UNO.
The question of social equality is also very important. There are groups of people who do not possess cars even in the richest societies: the poor, the disabled, the young, the unemployed. And there is the question of what we view as modernity: crowded highways with long traffic-jams (typical in Western Europe) or quiet, fast, and comfortable trains for longer routes, and trams, metros, and bicycles in cities. The final, and perhaps most important, question is whether we can afford this very expensive car experiment. Because, though it may look like welfare, it is in fact welfare's biggest threat. Now we are still in a position to choose the best solutions. But once we build the highways, repair the access roads, pay back debts, and have as many cars as Western Europe but a national per capita income comparable to Turkey -- then it may be too late to change anything.
prepared by Alina Płoszaj from ZB articles