The Lobau highway construction project is located in the North-East of Vienna and the adjacent region of Lower Austria, with a length of 19 kilometres excluding two associated subprojects . The project got first proposed in 1994 with the goal to complete the highway ring road around the Austrian capital including a sixth Danube crossing .
Local scientists, activists and NGOs consider it to be the “biggest, most expensive and most environmentally damaging highway construction project in Austria” . The Austrian transport sector green-house-gas emissions increased strongly in the last decades, hence building new roads in times of the climate crisis is one of the many arguments against the planned highway . The project would massively increase local green-house gas emissions; produce more traffic rather than reduce it; increase heavy transport in the region; foster urban sprawl; deplete local air quality; potentially endanger local drinking water security and biodiversity and would cost taxpayers more than 2 billion euro .
Despite the many arguments of environmental, traffic and health scientists against the highway, the Social Democrats keep insisting that a new highway is needed to relieve local citizens from the horrors of stuffed streets every day. This argument serves to hide the fact that even internal documents show that traffic would increase again a couple of years after inauguration of the new highway and that the true profiteers of the highway are housing companies, logistic centres, the truck sector, construction companies and the car industry . Given this fact, it makes sense that one of the main promoters of the project is the WKO, the Austrian representation of all companies and self-employed, which also pushed for the expansion project of the airport of Vienna, another climate-damaging infrastructure project which like the Lobau highway, is associated with creating an international logistic hub at the east of Vienna . Additionally, the Lobau highway would be part of the TEN 25 an international North-South transit route for cargo transport from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic .
In 2003 the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which does not consider the climate crisis in its latest scientific findings, concluded that a highway tunnel under the Lobau, a floodplain forest protected under the EU NATURA2000 nature protection scheme would be the “most feasible solution” to realize the project .
In 2006, ASFINAG, the state-owned highway building and maintenance company started with test drillings in the Lobau which got stopped by environmental activists . Within the next decade the start of the project got postponed several times mostly through environmental organisations and activists who brought up expert reports into the EIA and filed legal complaints regarding conflict of interests of some experts .
After years-long postponements the project was approved in its last legal instance in 2018 . Since then, the opposition against the project, consisting of local citizens and neighbourhood initiatives, local farmers, climate justice groups, environmental NGOs, the Green Party, and many scientists – has organised numerous demonstrations (the biggest one with about 7000 participants), direct actions, and published the Lobau manifest which gives twelve reasons why the Lobau highway and its subprojects are incompatible with responsible climate and environmental goals .
In summer 2021, media reports made public that the climate ministry had started an environmental evaluation of all planned ASFINAG highway projects, which lead to a freezing of the starting point of the Lobau highway construction until the evaluation was fully conducted . Despite the federal halt of the Lobau highway, the city of Vienna started with preparatory work for the “Stadstraße Aspern” a connecting highway and subproject of the Lobau highway .
In response to the starting construction works some activists from different climate justice groups (including FridaysForFuture Austria, which marked their first act of civil disobedience) squatted several construction sites of the Stadtstraße Aspern, initiated a legal camp close-by where workshops, action trainings, discussions and cultural events were organised and published the Lobau newspaper to inform the public of the ongoing conflict  .
In December 2021, the climate ministry’s evaluation results brought a sudden end to the major parts of the Lobau highway, including the tunnel under the national park . With this announcement also the other two subprojects associated with the Lobau highway had lost their rationale which would then end on green fields, without a connection to the infrastructure network. Instead of also stopping the Stadtstraße Aspern, the subproject that the city of Vienna is responsible for, the mayor (Social Democrats) tried to silence the activists not only with threats of eviction but also by sending letters to several activists and people associated with the protest, threatening them with lawsuits for excessive compensation of “damages” .
A wide range of actors including Amnesty International strongly condemned this as an anti-democratic and human rights violation SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) approach . The same month a self-built wooden structure at one squat was burned down in a deliberate arson attack, which risked the lives of eight activists inside, yet nobody got physically harmed. The looter and his motive could not be officially discovered . Then in February and April 2022 the squats of the city highway construction sites were evicted by the police (with some cases of documented police violence) in the interest of the city of Vienna .
An activist of Extinction Rebellion stopped her hunger strike against the Stadtstraße Aspern after one month passed without any response from the responsibles within the city council of Vienna .
The climate justice movement also showed creativity with their actions, for example by placing a grey one-and-a-half-meter statue of “concrete Ludwig” (the surname of the Viennese mayor) right in the park in front of the city council; or by barricading the entrance of the Social Democrats’ office with car tires [21;22]. Both intended as metaphors for the mayor’s and party’s failures in creating progressive climate and mobility strategies by holding on to building the Stadtstraße Aspern.
As of May 2022, despite continuous protests from the diverse anti-highway movement, the Stadtstraße Aspern is currently being constructed on behalf of the city of Vienna. Building the highway in Vienna could serve as an argument to also build the rest of the Lobau highway because the Social Democrats might hope that the party affiliation of the climate minister changes after the next Austrian federal election planned for autumn 2024, which could lead to a revoking of the dismissal of the main project. The struggle against the highway project continues.