Government approves BAM plan for Oosterweel link

Summary

The controversial tunnel to link Antwerp’s ring road in order to ease congestion to and from the port got the green light from the Flemish government on Friday. Works will begin in 2016

Mixed reaction to decision

After years of uncertainty, the government of Flanders has approved the so-called BAM Plan to complete the Antwerp Ring, known as the Oosterweel link. That means work will begin in 2016 on a series of roads and tunnels intended to ease congestion on the ring road, particularly around the port area.

The BAM route had the backing of the city of Antwerp, the Port of Antwerp Authority and the government of Flanders, though it was opposed by local activist groups because it would increase pollution and noise in heavily populated areas of the city. The action group stRaten-generaal had hoped the government would choose the alternative Meccano Route, which followed a wider arc around the city. “By choosing the Oosterweel Link,” said Manu Claeys of stRaten-generaal, “the government seems to be sacrificing the health of hundreds of thousands of Antwerp residents for the sake of cutting a few minutes off the driving time.”

Earlier last week, the chair of the Groen party, Wouter Van Besien, criticised the BAM route for Oosterweel because he said it solved Antwerp’s traffic congestion at the cost of public health. “We have to find a solution to mobility, the traffic jams have to be eliminated, but we also have to think about people’s health, which means that air quality has to improve and noise levels have to be reduced,” he said.

Van Besien’s comments followed the release of a report by the Antea Group consultancy that concluded that the BAM option was better for traffic but that the Meccano option was better for the “liveability” of the area’s residents. Van Besien argued for the government to put its efforts into creating new tram lines and fast bus links out to the suburbs, as well as building bicycle superhighways that would take advantage of the increasing range of electric bikes.

Flanders’ transport minister, Hilde Crevits, remains convinced of the benefits of the new Oosterweel Link, which will cost an estimated €3.2 billion and be paid for through a toll on vehicles. “Faster journey times, less noise, better air quality, improved safety in the tunnels and the biggest social gains,” she tweeted after the decision. She also tweeted that “over the coming years we have to invest in tramlines, cycle paths, bridges and rush-hour bus lanes.”

The decision was welcomed by the Flemish employers’ organisation VBO, which lamented the rush hour situation in a city that was at the top of last year’s list of worst traffic congestion in Europe. “Each year that this decision is delayed leads to enormous loss for both employers and employees, as well as an economic loss of some €400 million,” it said.

Mobility organisation Touring was also relieved at the outcome. “Finally the government is doing something after years of frustration for car drivers, truckers and Antwerp residents.”

Photo courtesy of De Standaard

Controversial tunnel to link Antwerp’s ring road gets green light from Flemish government.

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Traffic in Flanders

Thousands of commuters and foreigners pass through Brussels and Flanders each day, and the two regions have suffered from heavily congested traffic and long and frequent traffic jams for years – with no end seemingly in sight.
Record - According to the 2013 report from traffic information platform Inrix, Brussels and Antwerp have the most traffic congestion of any city in Europe and North America.
Calendar - October is the worst month of the year for traffic jams.
Causes - Year after year, heavy snowfall and railway strikes lead to monster traffic jams. Heavy congestion, infrastructure works and multi-lane accidents cause the more ordinary daily tailbacks.
1 285

largest area covered in traffic ever recorded in Belgium in kilometres

70

time Antwerp drivers spend in gridlock per year in hours

10 000

traffic diversions in Flanders per year