The Oosterweel Link is intended to join the left bank of the Scheldt with the Antwerp Ring, making it easier for harbour traffic to reach motorways to the north, south and east of Antwerp. The favoured link, advocated by the former provincial governor and supported by the Antwerp Mobility Agency (BAM), involves a bridge over the river and over several populated areas of the inner city. The bridge, nicknamed the Lange Wapper after a character from local folklore, has been accused by critics of being a pollution hazard for the areas under its span.
Alternatives have been put forward, including one by local interest group StRaten-generaal and one by technical study bureau ARUP, which was given the task of evaluating the alternative options. The StRaten-generaal plan involves a tunnel under the river and a short viaduct. ARUP also replaces the whole link with a tunnel that would connect to the Ring at a different place.
The Flemish government has asked all of the groups involved – Antwerp city, BAM, the harbour authorities and the protest group StRaten-generaal – to set out their ideas by this Friday, 13 March, after which it intends to take the final decision before the elections in June.
Town planning minister Dirk Van Mechelen greeted the report as a vindication of his support for the BAM plan. The other plans should be rejected, he argued, because they involved putting a toll on the use of the Kennedy tunnel, which would force ordinary people coming to work in Antwerp to pay a month’s salary in tolls every year, he said.
“Evidently some people had decided the conclusions of the study in advance,” said Antwerp mayor Patrick Janssens. Antwerp city council has long remained silent on the link, mainly, Janssens said, because it was convinced that the Lange Wapper option was the only one viable. The new report questions that view, making it worth taking the time to study it carefully, he said.
Van Mechelen’s own ministerial colleagues kept their distance. “This is an especially complex dossier, and Van Mechelen’s jumping to conclusions only makes it more difficult to reach a decision,” commented mobility minister Kathleen Van Brempt.
The city appears to favour ARUP’s plan, which the bureau admitted was still in a conceptual phase. ARUP gave a high score to the StRaten-generaal plan, on which its own is based. “We have to point out that it took a four-year struggle to get to this point,” said StRaten-generaal representative Manu Claeys about the devalued BAM plan. “Nearly €80 million in study and design costs and 10 years of procedure resulted in a project that got a less positive report than ours from the first serious, independent analysis carried out.”