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.
|Name of conflict:||Lobau highway construction, Vienna, Austria|
|State or province:||Vienna/Lower Austria|
|Location of conflict:||Vienna|
|Accuracy of location||HIGH (Local level)|
|Type of conflict. 1st level:||Infrastructure and Built Environment|
|Type of conflict. 2nd level:||Urban development conflicts|
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
The Lobau highway would be 19km long (including a 9km long tunnel under the national park of the Lobau floodplains). This does not include the connceting highway subprojects like the Stadtstraße Aspern . The highway and its subprojects would each consist of two lanes plus emergency lanes on each side . Depending on different scenarios the S1 Lobau highway might lead to a decrease in flow in vehicles on adjacent highways but will lead to a total increase in average flow of vehicles in Vienna . This will lead to an estimated increase in annual greenhouse gas emissions of about 105.000 tonnes for Vienna . The land consumption for the whole project, including its subprojects “Stadtstraße Aspern” and “S1 Spange Seestadt Aspern” will be about 194 hectares which equals the part of the historical first district of Vienna within the Ringstraße (Street where prior to 1850 walls separated the city from its suburbs.) . Officially the whole project was estimated to cost about 1,9 billion euro, but estimations of the green party (3,5 billion euro) and of scientists of the Technical University (4,5 billion euro) calculated much higher numbers . These costs will be paid partially by users via tolls but the main part will be paid by the taxpayer since the highway project is carried out by the ASFINAG, the 100 percent publicly owned stock company responsible for the construction and maintenance of all highways and express roads in Austria, in depth with more than 11 billion euro as for 2019 .
|Level of Investment for the conflictive project||2,000,000,000|
|Type of population||Semi-urban|
|Start of the conflict:||01/01/2003|
|Company names or state enterprises:|| Autobahnen- und Schnellstraßen-Finanzierungs-Aktiengesellschaft (ASFINAG) from Austria - construction company|
STRABAG (STRABAG) from Austria
PORR AG from Austria - construction of subproject "city street Aspern"
|Relevant government actors:||City of Vienna (as by 2022 governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and Liberals)|
Climate Ministry (Minister is L. Gewessler of the Greens)
Parlament (only instance that can change the Federal Roads Law and erase the plan to build the Lobau highway from it. Current majority of Conservatives, Social Democrats and Right Wing Freedom Party supports the highway project)
|Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:||LobauBleibt! |
Extinction Rebellion Austria
|Intensity||MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)|
|Reaction stage||PREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)|
Local government/political parties
|Forms of mobilization:||Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)|
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Hunger strikes and self immolation
|Environmental Impacts||Visible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover|
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
|Health Impacts||Potential: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths|
|Socio-economical Impacts||Visible: Violations of human rights, Increase in violence and crime|
Potential: Loss of livelihood
|Project Status||Under construction|
|Conflict outcome / response:||Criminalization of activists|
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
project partially (potentially just temporarily) suspended
|Proposal and development of alternatives:||Building new infrastructure and increasing safety for active mobility (walking, cycling); expansion of and denser intevals for public transport (bus, tram, reactivation of old train-tracks) ; measures to reduce the incentive to use cars (speed limits, higher parking costs, transformation of low-use streets, etc.) could transform mobility patterns and serve as an alternative to the highway project which would just increase the already strong car-dependence of the inhabitants of the transdanubian areas of Vienna. |
All these and many more detailled measures have been introduced already by environmental justice groups and the local Green Party .
|Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:||No|
|Briefly explain:||Although the climate ministry had dismissed the main part of the project, this decision could be revoked once party affiliation of the climate ministry changes after the next election in 2024. Considering this, the subproject "Stadtstraße Aspern" as a connecting highway for the Lobau highway is currently under construction on the order of the city council of Vienna.|
|Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)|
|References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries|
|Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network|
|Contributor:||Fynn Menzel [email protected] SystemChange,NotClimateChange! [email protected]|
Planned Lobau highway map
Map of Lobau highway showing the partition of the project into different subprojects. As of May 2022 the main part of the Lobau highway (S1) has been suspended by the Climate Ministry, yet the “Stadtstraße Aspern” is under construction.
Copyright: FridaysForFuture Austria
Squatted highway construction site "Desert" in 2021
The squatted highway construction site "Desert" got evicted in February 2022. After five months of continuous development of this space of resistance the construction works for the "Stadtstraße Aspern" have continued.
Copyright: Oliver Ressler
Actionday in Vienna in May 2021 by SystemChange, NotClimateChange!
Boats on the Danube channel in Vienna symbolizing the Lobau highway with the highway signs showing possible exits to the current climate destructive politics.
Copyright: SystemChange, NotClimateChange!
Red line at bicycle demonstration 2021
Activists of SystemChange, NotClimateChange formed a red line that shall not be crossed, symbolizing the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure like the Lobau highway.
Copyright: SystemChange, NotClimateChange!
Activists at highway construction site in 2021
Activists of "LobauBleibt" after finishing a wooden pyramide construction as a shelter for the squat of a highway construction site of the "city highway Aspern" (a subproject of the Lobau highway)
Copyright: SystemChange, NotClimateChange!