Flanders decides to expand Brussels ring road

  • Flanders will dedicate €380 million to “optimize” the ring.
  • “Local” and “Through” traffic will be separated.

The plan has been debated for years, especially in Brussels. Friday, the Flemish government made a unilateral decision. The Brussels ring road’s northern section, between Grand-Bigard (the start of the Motorways of the Sea– E40) and the entrance to the Liège highway (E40) will be expanded. Flanders will dedicate €380 million, and work will begin in 2016.

According to Flemish Transportation minister Hilde Crevits (CD&V), who prefers to talk about the ring’s “optimization” rather than expansion, this project is part of an overall plan. Its stated objective is to improve traffic flow and highway safety in Flemish Brabant. The plan includes investment in bike lanes into and out of Brussels and links to the Flemish Public Transportation Society De Lijn from the periphery to Brussels and vice versa.

In concrete terms, the ring’s “optimization” consists of separating traffic lanes between those vehicles following the ring road (through traffic) and those used by cars and trucks for a short section or by those preparing to exit (local traffic). Based on measured traffic density, this “optimization” will not be uniform. Three sections have been defined: between the E40 Brussels-Ostend and the A12 Brussels-Antwerp, three traffic lanes will be in both directions that will be assigned to through traffic, and two lanes will be for local traffic. Between the A12 and the E19 (Brussels-Antwerp) there will still be three lanes in both directions, but one will be reserved for local traffic. Finally, between the E19 and the E40 Brussels-Liège, there will be three lanes for through traffic and two local lanes in both directions.

In Brussels beyond concerns on the project’s impact on pollution in the capital, due to the supposed resulting increase in automobile traffic, environmental activists have been especially worried about the Laarbeek nature reserve if the highway is expanded. Laarbeek, listed as a Natura 2000 site, borders the ring road in the community of Jette. Activists are at least reassured by the fact that the ring’s path will be slightly modified  at its highest point so that it does not interfere with the reserve’s territory.

Will this major project resolve traffic congestion around the capital? There is no certainty about that. It is undeniable, however, that the Brussels periphery’s heavy traffic has long been a headache for drivers who use it. In 2012 it had almost two thousand hours’ worth of traffic jams. The same year, there were almost one thousand accidents and incidents weekly, according to the Belga agency. Seven months before the federal and regional elections, minister Crevits, about whom an article in Friday’s Die Standaard emphasized both his popularity and his … opposition to change, and his minister-president Kris Peeters, CD&V, have no doubt played a powerful card. It’s important to note that in Brussels the regional transportation minister Brigette Grouwels, CD&V, immediately welcomed the announcement of “the ring’s optimization.” She may be the only one to do that within the Brussels government.

PIERRE VASSART

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