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No easy solution to summer motorway chaos after long tailbacks built up last weekend

Summer tailbacks have returned to the Costa’s roads.
Summer tailbacks have returned to the Costa’s roads. / SUR
  • Numbers of vehicles using the roads are almost back to levels last seen before the financial crisis as an expert warns that traffic congestion could choke the Costa's tourist boom

Hold ups on the Costa del Sol’s motorways look set to be a permanent feature of weekends over the remaining weeks of summer. Last Sunday there were almost 30 kilometres of tailbacks at different points on the A-7 coastal motorway and the A-45 road from inland areas to the coast.

The national road traffic authority, Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT), has said that it cannot offer any quick solution or relief measure, as it has done in the past. Instead it has issued advice to motorists on how to avoid the worst of the hold-ups.

Before the 2008 financial crisis significantly reduced movement on the motorways, during the peak summer months the traffic authority used to open up extra lanes on hard shoulders at weekends along key congested sections.

However the DGT has said that it is no longer able to put most of these measures in place. Officials say that road widening and improvements over the past decade mean that hard shoulders either don’t exist in some key areas or are too narrow to take moving vehicles now.

They also say that the road management strategy has changed and that priority is being given to keeping the hard shoulders clear for emergencies and accidents. They add that they believe that opening a hard-shoulder lane on one section of road just pushes congestion onto another part of the route.

The DGT has admitted that tailbacks have been building up every weekend since May, but that they started to get worse in June, as an especially warm month inland forced many locals to flock to the coast.

Chaos last Sunday

Last Sunday’s tailbacks, the longest so far this summer, were made worse by many local celebrations for the Virgen del Carmen saint and several small accidents at different points on the motorway network.

As more visitors head to the coast for holidays and day trips again as the economy improves, the main road network is feeling the strain. In 2015 traffic increased by just over 5 per cent compared to the previous year and last year it went up a further 4.2 per cent, data shows.

On the A-7 motorway on the western Costa del Sol, the busiest stretch of road in the area, there were 108,476 journeys made daily on average in 2016. This is still a little behind the peak of 118,000 daily trips recorded back in 2005, but, on current trends, that figure is expected to be exceeded in the next couple of years.

Cheaper tolls called for

Although there is no official data as yet, traffic levels in Malaga province look set to grow by 5 per cent this high season, compared to last year.

As a way to avoid the worst chaos on Sunday evenings, the DGT is recommending that drivers bring forward or delay their departures to outside the peak 8pm to 10pm period.

It is also urging more motorists to take the alternative toll motorways that are currently under used; the AP-7 along the coast and the AP-46 into inland Andalucía from Malaga.

The authority says that, despite having to pay a toll, drivers actually save money when there are tailbacks on the normal roads as they don’t use as much fuel as they do trapped in a traffic jam.

Mario Arnaldo, president of Automovilistas Europeos Asociados (AEA), a motorists’ pressure group, has criticised toll road operators for cashing in during the summer months and increasing tariffs, calling on central government to do more to keep tolls lower.

“Malaga’s success could be killed off because of the congestion; the tourist industry needs to come up with creative solutions to reduce the cost of the toll for their customers,” he added.