Agreement on Oosterweel ends two decades of dispute

Summary

The Oosterweel Connection to link Antwerp’s ring road will finally break ground this year as community action groups reach an agreement with the city and regional governments

Historical handshake

The parties involved in negotiations over the Oosterweel Connection on the Antwerp ring road have agreed to the proposal drafted by the mediator brought in by the government of Flanders. The compromise was accepted by activist groups last month and has now also been accepted by the government and Antwerp’s city council.

The Oosterweel Connection will close the circle of Antwerp’s ring road, providing a means for traffic from the port area to travel north without having to drive in a large circuit around the ring as is now the case.

The original plan for the connection was fiercely opposed by three community groups – which formed specifically to fight Oosterweel – because it brought heavy freight traffic through populated areas of the city. A planned viaduct, which would have passed over a school for disabled children, was struck down by the popular vote in a 2010 referendum.

The proposal put forward by Flemish architect and mediator Alexander D’Hooghe – brought in from the US to develop a compromise option – replaced the original plan with a two-part solution. The original route would remain, but would be scaled back to serve only local traffic; traffic from the port, on the other hand, would be routed to a northern bypass far from the city centre.

The compromise covers the broad lines of the Oosterweel Connection. Matters such as investment in public transport and other alternatives to the car, budgetary considerations and the enclosure of sections of the ring still have to be worked out.

In the meantime, the agreement was welcomed by Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois, who thanked the civil activist groups for their “special expertise, admirable perseverance and readiness to seek a solution in the general interest”. The agreement was also, he said, “a model for future co-operation”.

Photo, from left: Representatives from community action groups Wim Van Hees, Peter Vermeulen and Manu Claeys seal the deal with Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois and Flemish minister of mobility and public works Ben Weyts

©Laurie Dieffembacq/BELGA