Investing in Road Networks: A European Perspective

Investing in the road network infrastructure is crucial for a variety of social, economic, and mobility reasons. From a social point of view, a developed road network allows people to move and to have social interactions. Economically, a high-quality network is a necessity for the movement of goods and people, which creates greater welfare and opportunities for everyone. Lastly, investing in road infrastructure improves the connectivity between rural and urban regions, and thus also facilitates mobility.  

Comparing road expenditure over time, it is evident that several European countries have increased their spend over the years (Fig. 1). Eastern European countries such as the Slovak Republic (+91%), Latvia (+84%) and Serbia (+79%) have increased their investment most significantly between 2013 and 2018. However, one must also consider the base spend prior to drawing conclusions. For example, Poland displaying a notable 63% increase of spend, is expanding from a relatively small base spend, having spent a below-average share of its GDP compared to other European countries.  

On average, most European countries spend around 0.8% to 1.2% of their annual GDP on their road network, whilst Poland for example was spending less than 0.5% of GDP in recent years (Fig. 2). Thus, an increase from a smaller base, though a high percentage, may be less noteworthy in absolute terms. Albania stands out as one of the highest spenders, investing around 2.2% of GDP on average between 2013 and 2017, gradually adjusting towards the average European range, by lowering their road expenditure to 1.5% in 2018. A possible explanation for Albania’s comparatively high spends, is that as an upper middle-income country, Albania is desiring to develop progressively and prioritising the need to invest in its infrastructure to advance further, as this is an area in which they were lagging behind previously. In stark contrast, Austria invests only 0.2% of GDP on average on road infrastructure over the past six years. This could be driven by the fact that Austria previously invested significantly, and with a relatively small surface area, where the road network is already well established and developed, fewer adjustments are required besides maintenance. Generally speaking, larger surface countries, such as France, are seen to spend more than smaller countries. From a regional perspective, eastern European countries invest more into their road network than the wealthier central and western European countries.

Important to note is that a significant gap in infrastructure investments remains and continues to pose a challenge, including for the road and transportation sector. The global road infrastructure investment gap is estimated at around USD 8 trillion by the Global Infrastructure Outlook, implying that the current spending levels should be significantly, but choicefully, increased in the upcoming years.

Another way of assessing the data is to evaluate how much each government spent on road infrastructure per 100,000 inhabitants (Fig. 3). Overall, what can be observed is that the aggregate level of spending per capita has been stable over time for most countries. Only few countries, such as France and Denmark show a slight u-shaped curve, declining their spend for several years before increasing it again. In most cases, this is primarily due to the evolution of maintenance rather than construction expenditures. Assessing the range of spending amongst the sample countries, smaller high-income countries, such as Denmark and Iceland, spend more money per capita on total road infrastructure. In general, there is no significant difference between high- and middle-income countries regarding their spending per capita. 

The IRF WRS 2020 encompass updated data for over 200 countries and 180+ indicators coverings topics such Road Networks, Road Traffic, Multimodal Traffic Comparisons, Vehicles in Use, Road Accidents, Road Expenditures & Revenues and many more. 

The online IRF Data Warehouse provides you with intuitive tools to perform these types of analysis and to create many more comparisons of different metrics or time series charts. 

If you are interested in more detailed information regarding key statistical indicators for the road and transport sector, whether for a specific country or worldwide, we invite you to watch the dedicated World Road Statistics webinar held on 23rd March 2021, to visit the IRF World Road Statistics website or contact us directly by phone  +41 22 306 0260 or email