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Closure of the A13: would it really be possible to make the A14 free?

The struggle continues for Ile-de-France motorists.

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Closure of the A13: would it really be possible to make the A14 free?

The struggle continues for Ile-de-France motorists. Closed since April 19, the A13 motorway between Vaucresson (Hauts-de-Seine) and Paris will finally reopen on May 11, only in the Province-Paris direction and for light vehicles, indicated the prefect of Hauts-de-Seine. de-Seine Monday. Enough to perhaps bring back to the table the question of temporary free alternative routes, including the A14, demanded by certain elected officials since the closure.

Like the president (LR) of the Île-de-France region Valérie Pécresse who, as of Sunday April 21, asked “the State to take charge of the free A14 to guarantee access to Paris for everyone during the work. Or the deputy (Renaissance) of Yvelines Karl Olive, the mayor (various right) of Saint-Cloud (Hauts-de-Seine) Éric Berdoati, or the centrist president of the Normandy region Hervé Morin.

However, the Minister of Transport dampened the hopes of motorists on Monday morning. At the microphone of RMC, Patrice Vergriete buried this proposal. “We looked, and it would perhaps be even worse than the disease, because we would saturate the La Défense tunnel,” he justified. After the closure of the section of the A13, the deputy Karl Olive also deplored the "end of inadmissibility" of the motorway concession companies regarding his request for free access to the A14, as well as the Duplex of the A86, this 10 kilometer long tunnel which connects Rueil-Malmaison to Vélizy via Vaucresson.

Because, if the closed portion of the A13 is managed by the French State, represented by the Île-de-France Roads Directorate (Dirif), it is not the same for the A14 nor the Duplex A86. The first is operated by SAPN (Société des autoroutes Paris-Normandie), a subsidiary of the Sanef Group. For the second, it is Cofiroute, a subsidiary of Vinci Autoroutes. Contacted, Sanef indicates that it “will not comment on the subject”. Vinci Autoroutes did not respond to our requests.

For the experts interviewed by Le Figaro, the room for maneuver available to the State to twist the arm of concessionaires, and force them to temporarily make alternative routes free, is limited in any case. “In no case is there an article in the concession contracts which says: you must allow free access if there is a flaw,” points out Jean-François Calmette, lecturer at the University of Perpignan and author of the book Highways, a State Affair (LGDJ editions, 2021).

So “this requires a modification of the concession contract, a modification which can occur in two ways,” estimates Laurent Richer, professor of public law and former lawyer. Either both parties agree and an amendment is concluded, which provides for example that the dealer agrees to free or reduced prices for a given period. But the particularity of concessions is that contracts and amendments must be approved by decree taken by the Council of State. And that may take a little time.” Second solution, put forward by this specialist in public contracts: a unilateral modification of the contract by the State. “But in this case, the State has the obligation to compensate the concessionaire,” specifies Laurent Richer. What Valérie Pécresse seems to be proposing. “But this cannot be done overnight,” points out the professor of public law.

A specialist in concession law, Jean-Baptiste Vila believes that the State would not necessarily need to touch concession contracts. But it would not be without compensation. “Either the company would negotiate compensation with the State. And if the State took a unilateral decision requiring the A14 to be made free, the company would refer the matter to the administrative judge and would necessarily obtain compensation,” explains the lecturer in public law at the University of Bordeaux and the University of French Polynesia (UPF). Compensation which could take the form of direct compensation from the State, or which could fall on users of the A14, via an increase in prices next year.

The Transport Regulatory Authority (ART) has more or less the same analysis: “It is not possible, contractually, to force the concessionaire to reduce or cancel the toll on the A14, even temporarily, except to do so. compensate for the shortfall.” In any case, “the State should act quickly” so that motorists can benefit from it, insists Jean-Baptiste Vila. However, legally and technically, temporary free service could be applied “within the hour”, he says.

In any case, the debate goes beyond the simple legal framework. “We could imagine that the concessionaires, outside of the law, decide to suspend the collection of tolls, in a purely commercial gesture,” imagines Laurent Richer. While this would do good for the image of these companies, which have been criticized for years for toll rates, “this could be difficult to accept from the point of view of company law, because it would amount to performing a gratuitous act of management” , underlines Laurent Richer. “It is in their interest to make an effort, to make a gesture, even if it is not completely free,” believes transport economist Marc Ivaldi. In the past, they have proven that they are capable of doing this, for example by offering toll rebates, under conditions. Latest example, in the summer of 2023, after a call to this effect from the Minister of Transport at the time, Clément Beaune. Jean-Baptiste Vila, conversely, considers a commercial gesture “utopian”.

Such a gesture would be all the more appreciated as the A14 motorway, a fallback solution for motorists, is one of the most expensive routes in France. Individuals must in fact pay up to 10.60 euros to travel the twenty kilometers of this section. For the A86 Duplex, pricing depends on the time and day. For example, it costs up to 14.50 euros on Fridays and the day before public holidays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. “The alternatives are overpriced!”, says Pauline, 34, who had to pay 11.20 euros to return from the weekend via the A86. Not to mention the significant traffic jams observed on the bypass roads.

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