Friday, 29 September 2023, 12:50
Residents of towns on the east side of Malaga city, many of whom are daily commuters, are calling for solutions to the long tailbacks that form on the A-7 motorway during rush hour.
"I've been driving into Malaga for 30 years from Benajarafe and I've seen how traffic has changed. Now, the roads have reached saturation point again, as they did before they made the last road improvements [building a third lane]," said commuter Javier Ruiz.
He described three black spots where traffic slows to a crawl between 7.30 and 9.30am: in Añoreta (Rincón de la Victoria); El Palo (east Malaga); and in the San José tunnel (closer to the city centre). Since the school and university terms started, the problem has worsened and now a 20-minute journey can take twice or even three times as long.
"Sometimes I wonder whether there's been an accident at rush hour, but then I realise that nothing special has happened... it's just congestion," said the driver, adding: "Investment always comes after the problems, never in advance as there is no foresight. Malaga is growing fast and more and more people live outside the city as property is expensive."
It was in the middle of 2012 that the last major roadworks to increase the capacity of the eastern Malaga motorway came to an end. Work on the third lane started during a previous period of serious congestion, in 2008, although then the tailbacks were mainly a summer problem; the work ended two years behind schedule.
Neither has there been much improvement to public transport services in the area since then, with little change to frequencies or capacities of buses connecting the commuter towns with the city.
What has changed over the last decade, however, is the population of the towns on the east side of Malaga, especially Rincón de la Victoria, as well as Vélez-Málaga, which includes Torre del Mar. According to figures from the national statistics institute (INE), between 2012 and 2022 the population in both municipalities grew by 15,000: Rincón has gained 9,353 residents (making the total 50,569); and Vélez, 5,432 (adding up to 83,899). This is an increase of 11% in just ten years. The population growth has exceeded the margin gained by the construction of the third lane.
There are more figures: between 2015 and 2019, traffic on the east side of the city grew by 34.5%, a year-on-year increase of 7.7%, when the national average is 2%.
"This is three times the Spanish average and five times the limit set by the ministry of transport to warrant plans for new infrastructure," said veteran engineer José Alba, president of consultancy firm ARCS, contracted between 2017 and 2021 by Malaga city hall to draw up an initial study for a new outer ring road for the east side of the city.
"Malaga is a very special case in Spain as it is seeing a boom in population and economic growth, and that is starting to take its toll on the local people, who suffer longer traffic jams," said the engineer. "We need growth, yes, but growth has to go hand in hand with an increase in facilities."
Population growth forecasts show Malaga as the second province with the greatest growth in Spain (after Madrid), meanwhile there are no plans from the ministry of transport to guarantee the mobility of the population, neither in the short nor mid term.
The mayor of Malaga, Francisco de la Torre, continues to push these plans for a new ring road, which at the time of the study became known as the Vía Perimetral.
"The study we did six years ago for the Vía Perimetral was sent to the ministry which ought to process and develop it, because there is a bottleneck, especially on the motorway around Rincón, which was built with limitations and is not up to the standard of the rest of the [A-7] Autovía del Mediterráneo," said De la Torre, adding that forum events would be organised to promote the proposal.
Meanwhile the only work being carried out so far on this stretch of the A-7 motorway began last week and is part of a maintenance project to repair the road surface, something the mayor of Rincón de la Victoria, Francisco Salado, has been demanding for some time.
Rincón's mayor has made further proposals to the ministry, including improvements to the slip roads used by traffic to join and exit the motorway. "There are so many tailbacks at the junctions as the slip roads are too short," he said. On this stretch of the road, in just one year the average daily traffic flow has gone from 73,000 to 76,000 vehicles.
Salado has also offered to build roundabouts near the motorway junctions to improve traffic flow, although he said the plans had not been accepted as they failed to comply with national roads legislation.
"We urgently need more public transport, cheaper and frequent buses and with reasonable journey times, to encourage people to leave their cars at home," said Salado.
The mayor, who is also president of the Diputación provincial authority, said that the concessions for the service, the responsibility of the Junta de Andalucía, had expired years ago.
"Improvements have been made but they are obsolete and not adapted to the needs and the growth of the area around Malaga city," he said, adding that a new contract should be put out to tender urgently.
The mayor of Vélez-Málaga, Jesús Lupiáñez, said that the national government had to take action.
"Vélez-Málaga town hall has been calling for mobility improvements for some time," he said. Joining Malaga's metropolitan transport consortium, which unites most commuter towns around the city, would benefit Vélez, said Lupiáñez. The mayor also mentioned the eastern Costa del Sol's long-term dream: for a coastal railway line that goes all the way from Nerja to Manilva.
Mayor of Torrox Óscar Medina also calls for the Vía Perimetral project to get off the ground.
"The fact this road is not being built, nor even on the drawing board, shows a lack of respect. People are suffering hours of delays and it's damaging the economy of the area," he said.
"We should have this project immediately, just like the other side has," he said, referring to the A-7 outer ring road on the west side of the city.
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