SOFICO – the regional agency in charge of providing complementary funding for infrastructure projects – has been driving Wallonia’s transport-infrastructure development for over two decades. Jacques Dehalu, Chief Executive, explains, “SOFICO’s mission is to ensure top-level transport infrastructure for Wallonia. Every day we provide solutions concerning roads and canals. Our goal is to make Wallonia more competitive and to position ourselves as a reliable partner for infrastructure projects.”
Maintaining existing transport infrastructure is just part of SOFICO’s job; the agency is also working to create new transport options. Jacques Dehalu points out, “Wallonia’s road traffic is growing by 5% to 15% per year. We can only build roads of up to three lanes, so to fight traffic congestion we want to establish an intelligent highway system in the near future as well as develop the region’s canal network.”
Recent projects for SOFICO include the Lanaye locks initiative to facilitate canal transport. As Jacques Dehalu says, “A 2,000-tonne boat can haul as much as 100 trucks. Developing our canals will mean less traffic on our roads.” In 2017, a new canal-locks project will be launched at Ampsin-Neuville. Budgeted at €150 million, it is scheduled for completion in 2021.
€300 invested in transport infrastructure per year
Wallonia requires around €300 million in infrastructure investment per year, of which the regional government currently supplies around one-third. SOFICO fills the gap through working with the European Commission and European banks. The projects SOFICO supports offer outstanding investment potential. Jacques Dehalu says, “Once we obtain the funds, we launch a tender process which meets the highest
European standards. Any company from anywhere in the world can bid for a tender.” SOFICO manages around 2,500 km of roads which are used at a rate of around 1,500 million km per month. SOFICO receives revenues from the service areas on these roads, which are managed by private companies. These revenues supply around 35% of SOFICO’s budget for improving and maintaining Wallonia’s infrastructure. To obtain the other 65% of its budget needs, SOFICO will institute road tolls beginning in April 2016. These tolls, based on kilometres used, will apply to trucks of more than 3.5 tonnes.
Making sure Wallonia’s transport infrastructure keeps pace with the region’s economic development will continue to be the priority for SOFICO. Jacques Dehalu concludes, “With our improved highways and the many new canal projects we are planning, we hope to make Wallonia one of the top regions in Europe for transport and logistics.”