Costa road tunnels and bridges have more safety problems than anywhere else in Spain

File photo of an accident inside a motorway tunnel in Malaga province.
File photo of an accident inside a motorway tunnel in Malaga province. / SUR
  • While there is no immediate danger, the government promised to step up inspections this week, including using drones

The province of Malaga tops the list of Spanish provinces with safety problems on its bridges and tunnels on the trunk road network, and all of those affected locally are on the Costa del Sol.

According to data from the central ministry for Infrastructure (Ministerio de Fomento) and the EU, 21 of the 113 tunnels in Spain that don't meet EU safety rules are found along the Costa.

Meanwhile the same ministry has admitted in separate data, which was previously kept secret but now published in El País newspaper, that there are 66 sub-standard main-road bridges, viaducts or overpasses across the country, nine of which are on the Costa del Sol.

Mountainous terrain

The amount in Malaga province, which tops the list of both tunnels and bridges, is being blamed on the area's mountainous terrain, meaning it has an above average share of tunnels and bridges on its motorways and main roads. The age of the roads is also being blamed.

However, the government could now be facing more fines from Brussels, similar to those recently given out for not treating effluent correctly in some areas, for failing to comply with its own promise to meet the EU deadline to upgrade tunnels by spring next year.

Tunnel vision

In terms of the 21 local tunnels which have safety deficiencies, 11 are on the A-7 coastal dual carriageway and are in municipalities including Marbella, Mijas, Estepona, Casares, Benahavís, Vélez-Málaga, Nerja, Torrox and Frigiliana.

The remaining 10 are on the AP-7 toll motorway. In the case of the A-7, it is down to the government to solve the problems, which include a lack of escape routes, systems for smoke extraction in a fire and inadequate safety lighting. Whereas for the road carrying the AP-7 classification, it is the private toll road operator that needs to pay the bill.

The problems arise from a 2007 law, which was enacted in response to a 2004 EU directive, that gave Spain until 30 April next year to upgrade the safety features in longer tunnels.

Longer tunnels prioritised

Even newer tunnels, such as the one at Churriana on the A-7 Malaga outer ring road, widely praised for its safety and only opened in 2011 after the law change, are included on the list.

In all, the government says it needs to spend an estimated 27 million euros carrying out the upgrades along the Costa del Sol. It is now seeking to have the timeframe for its own law extended for the shorter tunnels, under 500 metres, where improvements are less urgent.

Officials are also probing extra, remedial measures in the meantime for safety. However work on the longer tunnels, over 500 metres, is being put out to tender early next year as they are the most urgent under the EU guidelines.

Improvements were delayed during the financial crisis when infrastructure budgets were cut.

Bridge problems

In the case of the problematic bridges, another government analysis says that nine of the 66 bridges or viaducts with the most critical problems on the state road network are in Malaga province. These are on the A-7, MA-20 (old A-7 between Torremolinos and Malaga city) and the N-340 between Nerja and Maro.

The government's analysis of almost 23,000 bridges, viaducts and overpasses across Spain gave points to the condition of each bridge and each one with 81 points or more has been listed as a problem. Sixty-six were found to have the most serious problems. Only six per cent of the 23,000 were given the total all clear.

No real danger for now

The government has stressed that none of these bridges is in any danger and the problems, including corrosion, can be fixed in time. After the data was published this week, it promised to step up inspection on the bridges, including using drones, and blamed the previous government for doing nothing until now about the tunnels.

In terms of problematic bridges, Malaga is out in front with Cadiz province, compared to other provinces. For tunnels, the northern region of Asturias is a close second to Malaga, with 20 needing a safety upgrade. Here too there are a lot of tunnels as motorways have to wend their way through mountains.