Germany’s “Black Zero” Produces Near Collapse of a Major Bridge

On June 18, a 400 meter long highway bridge nearly collapsed in the city of Wiesbaden. While all traffic was stopped before a catastrophe could occur, comparisons have been drawn to the tragic collapse of a highway bridge in Genoa three years ago. A large section of the A66 Autobahn in Wiesbaden will now remain closed for an indefinite time. This is a vital part of the transport network in the Rhine-Main region, which includes the cities of Frankfurt, Wiesbaden and Mainz and the Frankfurt airport. As the bridge crosses the railway tracks leading to the main station in Wiesbaden, virtually no trains can enter or leave the station. It also crosses over another major highway, at the point at which it enters Wiesbaden, which has been blocked.

This was a catastrophe waiting to happen and the blame can be laid on the “black zero” (zero deficit) policy of former German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, under which funds have been denied to repair and replace the aging infrastructure. In Hessen, where Wiesbaden is located, it has been reported that every tenth bridge is in urgent need of replacement as similar situations can be found all over Germany.

The editor in chief of the Allgemeine Zeitung Mainz, Friedrich Roeingh, wrote on that daily’s website: “We can no longer allow ourselves to be satisfied with nice talk about increasing renovation budgets. More money is of no use as long as the collapse advances even faster. The previous small-small approach must finally give way to programs with billions of euros. And they will only work if planning and approval law is accelerated at the same time.”

The Salzbachtal bridge was built in 1963 for a traffic flow of 20,000 vehicles, and some 80,000 use it every week day today, including many large trucks and tractor trailers. It is one of the many old reinforced concrete bridges in Germany, that are slowly being replaced by steel bridges. Even under the current plan, the south-side bridge (the one that began to collapse) is not expected to be completed before 2024 and the north side not until 2026.

The only policy that makes sense now is to expedite the demolition of the bridge through 24 hour shifts, and launch a crash project to build the new one. That would obviously cost more, but so will the closure of the highway and railway station.

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