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Autobahn network 'needs a face lift' at 80

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Autobahn network 'needs a face lift' at 80
Germany's first stretch of autobahn opened in 1932. Photo: DPA
08:21 CEST+02:00
The German autobahn system will be 80 years old on Monday - and some say the road network is starting to show its age.

"In the last decade the condition of the highway network has continually deteriorated," said ADAC traffic expert Wolfgang Kugele.

The German motorists' club ADAC blames a lack of federal investment. They say the government needs to spend more than the €5 billion it currently dishes out per year to maintain the road network.

Kugele said there was enough money to pay for improvements.

"Right now the toll for trucks alone brings is around €4.5 billion. That's slightly less than is invested in the highways as a whole," he said.

All told, German motorists currently pay about €53 billion annually in specific fees.

The country boasts approximately 12,845 kilometres of federal highways and 39,700 kilometres of federal roads, making it one of Europe's densest highway networks.

The autobahn network is also one of Germany's proudest achievements – and is internationally renowned for being one of the world's only motorways without a speed limit, though motorists are advised not to exceed 130 kmh.

The debate over whether to introduce a limit has raged for decades. Those that argue that saved lives and reduced emissions would be worth it are slowly gaining ground over those who cherish their right to drive their BMWs as fast as they want.

The autobahn network also has a darker side - Hitler was an enthusiastic proponent of the motorway and much of it was built during the Third Reich. But it was Konrad Adenauer – then mayor of Cologne who would later became the first West German chancellor – who opened the initial portion in 1932, to connect the cities of Cologne and Bonn.

That stretch, known as the A555, was immortalized by the German electronic band Kraftwerk in their 1974 song “Autobahn”.

As the summer heats up and more German motorists hit the road during the school holidays, the wrinkles in the 80-year-old system may cause many to curse rather than cheer the Autobahn.

DAPD/The Local/sh

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