Five questions for Susanne Kuijpers

A motorway as a regional development

When driving from Delft the new A4 motorway descends ever deeper below ground level only to disappear completely underground halfway along the route. This special overall design even makes environmental organizations happy. Susanne Kuijpers of Nature and Environment Federation of South Holland Province (NMZH) looks back, shares lessons learned and pleads for more creativity.

February 24, 2016

The A4 is open. How do you look upon this new road?

Well, we would rather have kept this region as it was, without a road running through it, but at the same time we understand that there are other interests. So yes, if it is really necessary, then do it in a way so that the quality of life in the region at least remains stable. That certainly worked with the A4 thanks to measures such as the sinking of the road below ground level, the large eco-aquaduct, space for grassland birds and the 100 hectares of new nature reserve. Part of the nature reserve is actually not yet finished. We will follow the developments closely.

20160217_heijmans_A4_skuipers_4427.jpg

Susanne Kuijpers: 'The A4 is a sunken motorway that at the same time extends its head above ground level.'

Why has it taken 60 years to reach this solution?

Projects such as the A4 and the Maasvlakte have an enormous impact on the densely populated province of South Holland. It is not an easy task to get everyone to pull together. The secret, in our opinion, is to take an integrated approach to these types of large road projects. See it as a regional development instead of an accessibility issue. Taking a wider perspective will create shared interests and will bring partners to the table with a more open and positive attitude. People want to contribute to a total solution instead of protesting against asphalt.

Are the lessons learned from the A4 sufficiently applied elsewhere?

Not really. As far as the Blankenburg Tunnel and the A13/A16 are concerned, we are travelling back in time. Partly owing to financial pressures, increasingly more plans are being reversed into a common mobility issue, while with these kinds of major interventions we can no longer afford to simply opt for accessibility and economy. Roads like the A4 are built to last 100 years. Being temporarily short of funds is not a reason to pay ‘a little less attention for the moment’ to the living environment. It would be better to save up a while longer.

20160217_heijmans_A4_skuipers_4368.jpg

The eco-aquaduct over the A4 forms a ‘natural deck’ of 100 metres wide and a span of 42 metres.

At the same time the government can only spend the money once, can’t it?

That’s right, so you have to be sensible. You could, for example, ask yourself to what extent is a motorway actually a future-proof investment, especially at a time when it is not obvious that that mobility will always continue to grow. Many young people in the city today, for instance, no longer want a car. Moreover, a ‘broken’ landscape cannot be restored just like that. A landscape that ensures an attractive living climate and encourages people to get out on their bikes or go for a walk. Although it is difficult to express it in hard currency, those investments are of great value.

20160217_heijmans_A4_skuipers_4321.jpg

And if a road does come, do you have any tips?

As a government, make more use of innovations and ideas from the market! Clients, however, still mainly look at the impossibilities of better integration ideas, while parties like Heijmans cannot wait to distinguish themselves with smart solutions. Now everything is being boarded up in a Transport Infrastructure (Planning Procedures) Decree and afterwards a contractor has hardly any room to make improvements. A few metres further to the right or to the left and that’s about it. We are actually pleading for more room the moment a construction firm comes into play. Give them more room for creativity and, as a client, dare to be innovative at an earlier stage.