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Spanish government under heavy fire over Christmas freeway chaos

Source: El Pais - Tue 9th Jan 2018
Spanish government under heavy fire over Christmas freeway chaos

Spain’s opposition parties have launched an all-out attack against the government over its handling of its first major management crisis since it lost the protection of an absolute majority in the national Congress.

The Socialists (PSOE), the anti-austerity party Podemos and Ciudadanos have all launched formal petitions calling for Spain’s public works and interior ministers to appear in Congress to explain why thousands of people were stranded for up to 18 hours on the AP-6 tollway by heavy snowfall as wintry weather buffeted the country over the weekend.

Spain’s opposition parties have also called on the outspoken head of the national General Directorate of Traffic (DGT), Gregorio Serrano – who blamed poor decision-making by drivers for the crisis – to appear in Congress, with the PSOE calling for him to step down.

On Monday, the Socialists use terms like “chaos,” “lack of coordination” and “terrible management” to describe the situation that saw thousands of people, including families with young children, stranded without food and water on an 80-kilometer stretch of the freeway between Madrid and Segovia.

Faced with a flood of criticism, the government has limited itself to shaking off on the reproaches and waiting until they subside. Public works Minister Íñigo de la Serna has laid the blame at the feet of the toll road operator Iberpistas, launching an investigation into its handling of the crisis. De la Serna, who found himself in Santander on Saturday, set up an emergency committee at 6.30pm on Saturday before returning to Madrid on Sunday while Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido – at a soccer match in Seville when the crisis kicked off – also returned to Madrid on Sunday. He has not spoken publicly about the crisis.

Zoido chose not to speak after a meeting on Monday of a committee charged with state coordination of the Spanish road network in winter, but the ministry said Zoido had been “informed, and providing information, at all times as to traffic problems caused by snowfall.” The ministry also noted that the AP-6 road operator had not informed authorities there was a problem until 10.50pm on Saturday.

While the interior minister has maintained public silence, DGT director Gregorio Serrano has stepped into the limelight. However, he too, preferred to deflect blame. Serrano who remained in Seville on Sunday, pointed the finger at the road operator Iberpistas. “The DGT is responsible for controlling thousands and thousands of roads and there were no serious incidents on them. The AP-6 is a tollway that has its own management center and its own system for controlling this road,” he said. Serrano also targeted drivers who made the “perhaps not very wise” decision to “travel without chains or winter tires” despite “knowing or having information about the type of snowfall that was going to fall in the area.”

The Spanish Ombudsman’s office on Monday said it was planning to look into who was responsible for the chaos over the weekend, while the consumer rights organization OCU has launched legal action on the part of people affected.

Public works minister De la Serna said on Sunday he was prepared to appear in Congress once he had concluded an investigation into the road operator’s role in the crisis, while interior minister Zoido and DGT chief Serrano have stated they would be prepared to appear before the congressional traffic safety committee.

Recommended Reading :

* 200,000 UK Motorists drive on wrong side of the road in Spain

* Spain's DGT improves road safety for cyclists

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