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The Spanish motorway routes that will become toll-free in 2021

The Spanish motorway routes that will become toll-free in 2021
Photo: AFP
More than 650km of motorways (mainly in Catalonia) will become toll-free this year, but 2021 may also spell the end of toll-free driving on Spanish dual carriageways.

Spain is the country with the largest network of motorways and dual carriageways in the EU, and third globally only behind the US and China.

With more than 17,000km of high-speed roads available, one might expect that drivers in Spain would have to cough up large sums in tolls to cover the costs of such a huge road network, but this is fact not the case.

Almost 14,000km of high-speed roads in Spain are toll-free, a much better rate than in neighbouring European countries.

From September 1 2021, this number will be even lower, with the existing 1,500km of motorways with tolls being reduced by 664km.

Here are the new toll-free motorway routes in Spain in 2021, with most of the changes benefiting drivers in Catalonia as the regional government takes over the management of privately run highways:

Two new motorway routes on the AP-7 will become toll-free: the 246km section between Tarragona and La Jonquera (Girona province) and the 179km section between the municipalities of Montmeló and El Papiol. This means that the AP-7 motorway, which runs along Spain’s eastern coast from Catalonia down to Murcia (as well as a separate motorway section from Málaga to Cádiz), will only have tolls in 318km of its 948km network.

The AP-2 Zaragoza-Mediterráneo highway, from Zaragoza in northeast Spain to El Vendrell on the Catalan coast (70km from Barcelona), will also become toll-free in September 2021.

Catalonia’s C-32(Barcelona-Lloret de Mar) and C-33 (Barcelona-Montmeló) motorways will also become toll-free and government-run in 2021.

This follows the trend in recent years in Spain whereby other privately run motorways have gone on to be managed by regional or national government departments, leading to tolls being slashed. The aim is reportedly to get rid of “regional differences” in toll costs. 

By contrast, 2021 may also bring the end of free dual carriageways in Spain, called autovías in Spanish.

The government is currently drafting its newest Mobility Law, with Spanish Transport Minister José Luis Ábalos already suggesting on numerous occasions in 2020 that dual carriageways or expressways will soon no longer be free.

However, tolls on dual carriageways are likely to be largely “symbolic”, amounting to about a tenth of the average toll price on Spanish motorways.

“Anyone who doesn’t have a choice in the matter, such as those driving to work, won’t be charged, Ábalos said.

“But for those for whom driving on these roads gives them the competitive edge in their business activity, we will charge, since they benefit from this infrastructure.”

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According to the Spanish Road Association (AEC), the country’s vast road network is struggling to keep up with its maintenance requirements, both financially and structurally, which could explain the government’s decision to introduce tolls on dual carriageways.

There are small differences between motorways (autopistas) and dual carriageways (autovías) in Spain relating to variable speed limits, access and exit points and whether they can go through urban areas, among other minor variances.

All dual carriageways are also state-run, whereas motorways can be privately managed.

A survey by Spanish news site El Español found that 44.3 percent of respondents believed all Spaniards should pay for the estimated €1.1 billion in annual maintenance costs of the country’s road network though tolls on dual carriageways.

Just over 37 percent said they should be toll-free whereas 9.5 percent said only “tourists and foreigners” should be charged and 2.8 percent argued tolls should only be for transport companies and truck drivers.  


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