Drivers in Germany warned to expect delays on the Autobahn this year

The German government set aside a record amount of money in 2022 to upgrade the country’s highways. But that does mean more than a few headaches for drivers this year.

People drive on the Autobahn near Berlin.
People drive on the Autobahn near Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Monika Skolimowska

With a record €5.4 billion investment earmarked last year for Germany’s famous high-speed highway network, the Autobahn is set for a few years of badly needed roadworks, according to road bosses.

“In the past, there was too little invested in maintaining this infrastructure,” Stephan Krenz, head of the federally-owned Autobahn GmbH, told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). “The Autobahn is at its breaking point in many places.”

2023 will see over 550 construction sites set up on the German Autobahn to maintain and upgrade the roads. That covers around 10 percent of the entire network. Contrary to the Autobahn’s reputation for fast, efficient travel – with no speed limit on many stretches – traffic in the affected areas is likely to be prone to long delays.

Krenz says this will probably at least a couple of years. That’s because road crews can only work on about 10 percent of the network at a time without creating serious long-term delays, but a lot more than that portion needs repairs. So crews will work on roughly ten percent of the Autobahn at any given time, setting up new construction sites to replace old ones as they’re completed.

READ ALSO: Eight things you never knew about the German Autobahn

Krenz says bridge works are particularly urgent, with some of them already approaching the end of their lifespan. With around 1,000 bridges needing repaired or even replaced, construction sites to maintain and upgrade them will be set up around the country – in every federal state and including the ring roads around Germany’s three largest cities – Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich.

Krenz says despite climate concerns, road traffic in Germany is only forecasted to go up – particularly when it comes to freight traffic. That’s why creating more rest stops for truckers is another priority, along with infrastructure to charge electric vehicles.

For now though, the majority of work crews are undertaking over the next few years is maintenance, with little new being built on the German Autobahn.

READ ALSO: ‘Germans are not tired of cars’: Number of vehicles on roads continues to rise

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Germany needs speed limits on the Autobahn, minister insists

Germany's Environment Minister has reignited a fierce debate around the introduction of speed limits on the motorway as she claimed the transport sector should do more to hit its climate targets.

Germany needs speed limits on the Autobahn, minister insists

Steffi Lemke of the Green Party told DPA that the coalition government was setting ambitious targets for rolling out e-cars and other electric vehicles on German roads.

“But that alone will not be enough to achieve the climate targets in transport,” she added. “And if one climate protection measure cannot be implemented quickly enough, this inevitably increases the pressure on other sectors. You can’t negotiate with the climate crisis.”

In the view of the Environment Ministry and multiple experts, putting speed limits across the entirety of Germany’s Autobahn would significantly reduce CO2 emissions, Lemke said.

READ ALSO: Eight things you never knew about the German Autobahn

“Incidentally, my predecessors from the Social Democrats (SPD) have also already taken this position,” she said. “But it is not part of the coalition agreement for well-known reasons.”

With her latest statements, the Environment Minister has put herself on a collision course with the traffic light coalition’s right-leaning partner, the Free Democrats (FDP).

Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke

Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens). Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

In coalition negotiations that took place back in 2021, the FDP made the introduction of a so-called ‘Tempolimit’ one of their red lines – forcing the SPD and Greens to withdraw their support for the move. 

Since then, the energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reignited the fierce debate over speed limits, with advocates arguing that the step would be easy to implement and help Germany meet its climate targets.

Back in July 2022, a poll by German broadcast ARD found that the majority of Germans supported the introduction of an Autobahn speed limit.

However, key figures in the FDP – including Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Transport Minister Volker Wissing – have continued to voice their opposition.

READ ALSO: Germany ‘doesn’t have enough signs’ for Autobahn speed limit, says minister

According to the latest estimates from German Environment Aid, introducing a speed limit of 100km per hour on the Autobahn and of 80km per hour on rural roads could save around 11.1 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

Currently, much of the German motorway network is covered by speed limits, but long stretches of it that don’t pass through urban areas or the so-called commuter belt are famously free of speed restrictions. 

However, drivers are encouraged to drive sensibly, including reducing speed dramatically in wet or icy weather.