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10 March 2022
Public thematic report
At around 1.1 million km, the French road network (one of the longest and densest in Europe) is largely
managed by local authorities
almost 380,000 km by the departments and over 700,000 km by the
towns and cities. This distribution follows several waves of decentralisation towards the departments, of
which the implementation of the law on differentiation, decentralisation, deconcentration and various
measures to simplify local public-sector work (known as the
), adopted in February 2022, is
intended to be a continuation. Implementation of this partial transfer of the national road network,
which places a great deal of emphasis on negotiation between local and central government, and
indeed between local authorities, will increase the fragmentation of jurisdiction over the road network.
In particular, a new category of local authority - in this case regional governments - is likely to become a
network operator. In the report published today, the Court of Auditors points out that, overall, France is
moving towards a complex model, which is quite rare in Europe, without this transformation having
given rise to any real deliberation on the new role of central government in road policy.
The absence of a real road policy
In this context of gradual decentralisation of the national road network, central government remains -
by law - the guarantor of the coherence and effectiveness of the entire network. However, it has not
availed itself of the necessary means to exercise this responsibility. For example, it does not have
sufficient information on local authority roads, their condition, maintenance and use. In addition, the
Scientific and Technical Network, which forms the core of road expertise, has seen its staffing levels
halved over the past twenty years, weakening central government
s ability to provide advice and
support. This lack of a national strategy is reflected in the low priority given to infrastructure questions
in road safety policy. Although roads themselves are rarely the main cause of accidents, their
maintenance and development could play an important role in reducing risks. With this in mind, the
Court suggests placing the road safety delegation under the joint supervision of the Ministers of the
Interior and of Transport. In addition, environmental protection and climate change are giving rise to
diverse and uncoordinated responses. A genuine national road policy, based on both knowledge of the
entire network through compulsory data reporting, and an increased role for the Scientific and
Technical Network, must be followed in conjunction with local authorities.
The lack of coordination and planning tools
In order to improve the annual assessment of the condition of the national road network, monitored
by central government regularly since the 1990s, the Ministry of Transport decided to use a more
sophisticated system based on 3D imagery and geolocation. Unfortunately, implementation of this
system has encountered many difficulties, preventing an objective assessment for several years. In
addition, the information on national roads made public in annual budget documents appears to be
too limited. With regard to departmental road networks, audits conducted by the financial
jurisdictions showed that only 40% of the departments in the sample had carried out an assessment
covering all of their roadways. All in all, it is therefore difficult to judge the current state of the road
network. Maintenance and operations are still too often adjustment variables, altered depending on
the financial position or other investment priorities. Despite the progress of a multi-year approach,
seat-of-the-pants planning is often seen in local government, sometimes just reduced to a simple,
even distribution between localities. A more formal approach could come from the presentation of
multi-year plans in the budget orientation reports presented to the deliberative assemblies.
Reforms and reorganisations necessary for greater efficiency
The current organisation of that part of the national network that is not run under concessions in
France has become unique in Europe: central government is the owner, strategist, regulator and
operator. The Court considers that monitoring the quality of service as perceived by users and
involving them more closely in the collection of field data could facilitate some adaptation to meet
real needs. Following the example of England, these approaches should inspire all road network
management bodies - both central government and local authorities. The coordination provided by
the Ministry appears to be both too narrow in terms of planning the most important work and too
loose in terms of practices and exploitation of the road system. A multi-year contractual agreement of
objectives and resources between central administration and road management services should be
put in place to improve the efficiency of the whole organisation. This reform of the management
method, adaptation of service levels, and improved knowledge of requirements thanks to more
precise and relevant indicators, could help to achieve far greater effectiveness. In this respect, some
departments have been more successful in adapting not only their objectives, but also their
organisations, to the resources available. A multi-year approach is essential; the financial jurisdictions
point out that some preventive maintenance expenditure would, in the long run, lead to significant
savings by avoiding much more extensive repairs in the future.
Read the report
Emmanuel Kessler
Directeur de la communication
01 42 98 55 62
Julie Poissier
Head of Press Relations
01 42 98 97 43
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