The bad example of the L9

Infrastructure policy has to draw lessons from the L9 fiasco

A report by the Audit Office has denounced the fact that the works on line 9 of the Barcelona Metro have already accumulated 14 years of delays and an extra cost of €5bn, 250% over budget. We recall that this pharaonic work, which was advertised in 2000 as what was to be the longest line in Europe, is still not finished on its central section, between La Sagrera and Zona Universitària. The fact that only the ends are working means that it cannot carry out its main mission: to create a corridor that connects the whole north of the city parallel to the sea and reaches the airport and the Zona Franca. Right now these two branches are underused, especially the one to the airport, since there are faster alternatives, such as the Aerobus.

The initial cost of construction was €1,967m. Well, in 2016, €6,916m had already been spent, and it is still not finished. This means that, when it is completed, the extra cost will be much higher. Two decades later, however, it can already be said that the investment was not justified and that for decades it has become a burden for the already punished Catalan finances. In a way, the L9 is our AVE, which indicates that the culture of unreasonable, excessive public works is not exclusive to Madrid.

Coincidentally, this Wednesday ERC announced that the agreement to vote the 2021 budget includes an investment of more than €2.3 billion for Catalonia, a figure that represents a very significant leap from the last budget, approved by the PP, where this figure was €1.3m. The lesson of the L9, however, is that it is necessary to fine-tune as much as possible where this money goes so that it really provides added value and does not become a bottomless pit. In the case of L9, there was a serious error in the calculation of costs that has ended up invalidating any calculation of economic return, since it is a work that will be difficult to pay off. It will, however, serve to improve urban mobility and help combat private vehicle use and pollution.

But in any case, before starting a project, in addition to the environmental impact studies, it is essential to carry out a very careful study of the cost/benefit ratio. A euro intended for infrastructure must be capable of giving back many more in the territory and its economic fabric. It is true that after the 2007 crisis it is difficult for anyone to propose a project such as the L9, and now perhaps it is advisable to opt for more surgical interventions and financially sustainable alternatives. The pandemic has highlighted the fragility of our economic model but it has also revalued the health and scientific infrastructures. The next government of the Generalitat will have the responsibility of managing, if we add the arrival of European funds, a quantity of resources never seen before. We hope that the bitter lessons of the dream of building "the longest metro line in Europe" have been learnt.

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