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French roads are divided into three main categories: municipal, departmental, and national. The latter category includes both highways and other national roads. Different levels of government have jurisdiction over different types of roads, but the construction of new roads is often financed by more than one source. No special tax or duty is specifically tied to funding road infrastructure, except that many French highways are funded by tolls. Furthermore, these toll highways are managed by private companies under a concession system. A recent effort by the French government to impose tolls on heavy vehicles using national roads and highways that are not under a concession regime was postponed in the face of strong popular opposition.

I. Introduction: Organization of the French Road System

French roads fall into three categories, according to which level of government has authority over them.  The national road system (voirie nationale) is part of the state’s domain,[1] and is itself divided into two subcategories: highways (autoroutes) and national roads (routes nationales).[2]  Departmental roads (routes départementales) belong to the départements[3] in which they lie.[4]  Lastly, local municipal roads (voies communales) belong to the municipalities.[5]

There were about 21,157 km of roads in the national road system as of 2011, including 11,412 km of highways and 9,745 km of other national roads.[6]  In addition, there were about 377,857 km of departmental roads and 654,201 km of municipal roads.[7]

Although the responsibilities for building and maintaining roads are divided among the three levels of government as mentioned above, the state nevertheless has the duty to ensure the coherence and efficiency of the French road network as a whole.[8]

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II. Funding of National Road Infrastructure

The national road system is a “coherent network of roads and highways of national or European interest.”[9]  The government is supposed to issue a decree every ten years determining which roads belong to the national road system.[10]  This national road system is subdivided into two categories: highways and “national roads.”  All roads belonging to the national road system that are not highways are considered national roads.[11]

A. Construction of New Road Infrastructure

1. National Roads in General

New road projects are managed through one of twenty-one services régionaux de maîtrise d’ouvrage (regional construction management services), which ultimately fall under the authority of the Ministry of the Environment, Sustainable Development and Energy.[12]

New road developments can be financed by governmental spending (either by the state on its own, or in partnership with other levels of government, such as regions or départements) or by public-private partnerships.[13]  A third approach, consisting of a concession arrangement, may also be used for highways (see part II(A)(2), below).[14]

Public-private partnerships allow the state to hire a private company to take charge of one or several aspects of a new infrastructure project, such as financing, planning, construction, maintenance, or management.[15]

The state’s financial contribution to any road infrastructure project is undertaken through the Agence de financement des infrastructures de transport de France (AFITF) (Agency for the Funding of the Transportation Infrastructure of France).[16]  The AFITF’s financial resources are principally made up of the following elements:

  • contributions from the state
  • fees paid by highway concessionaires
  • a special tax paid by highway concessionaires
  • 40% of fines resulting from automatic control and penalty systems
  • income from investments
  • loans[17]

The AFITF also benefitted from a one-time allocation of €4 billion (about US$5.5 billion), which came from the proceeds of the privatization of highway concessionary companies in 2006.[18]

2.  Highways and Highways Tolls

Article L122-4 of the French Code of the Road System states that “the use of highways is free in principle.”  That same article, however, goes on to say that the state may install toll systems to help finance the construction, management, maintenance, and development of that infrastructure.[19]  The state may also delegate the construction, management, maintenance, and development of a highway to a third party under a concession system, in which case the toll may also serve as profit for that third party.[20]  Furthermore, a highway may be financed jointly by a concessionary, the state, and/or a local government (such as a département), and toll proceeds may then be shared between the partner entities.[21]

A special body called the Caisse nationale des autoroutes (CNA) (National Highway Fund) exists to facilitate the financing of highway construction.  Concessionaires may borrow from the CNA for the purposes of constructing and managing highways.[22]  The CNA’s own financial resources come primarily from issuing bonds on the primary bond market.[23]

As of 2011, approximately 75% of French highways were the objects of a concession.[24]

Toll rates are normally based on the type of vehicle, and the distance between the vehicle’s entry and exit points on a particular highway.[25]  Thus, in 2013, a car driven on the highway between Toulouse and Bordeaux paid €18.80 (about US$25.70), whereas a tractor-trailer or heavy bus paid €57.20 (about US$78.25) for the same trip.[26]  The per-kilometer rates can vary significantly among different routes, as the toll rates for conceded highways are set by the individual concessionaires.[27]  Furthermore, additional fees may be charged for the use of certain tunnels.[28] 

B.  Maintenance of Existing Roads

1.  National Roads

The state maintains and manages existing national roads through local agencies called directions interdépartementales des routes (interdepartmental directorates for roads), or DIR.[29]  These agencies, of which there are currently eleven,[30] and which fall under the authority of the Ministry of the Environment, Sustainable Development and Energy,[31] are tasked with the maintenance and management of the national road system.[32] 

The maintenance of national roads is financed by the general national budget, by cofinancing from local authorities (municipal, departmental, or regional governments), and by the AFITF.[33]

2.  Highways

Concessionaires are responsible for the maintenance and management of the highways conceded to them.[34]  In the case of nonconceded highways, the state is responsible for maintenance and management in the same manner as for other national roads.[35]

In theory, the maintenance of highways can be financed by tolls regardless of whether that highway is the object of a concession or not.[36]  In practice, however, only conceded highways currently have tolls.[37]  The maintenance of these conceded highways, therefore, is primarily financed by tolls, while the maintenance of nonconceded highways is financed in the same manner as other national roads.[38]

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III. Funding of Departmental and Municipal Road Infrastructure

A. Departmental Roads

Each département is responsible for funding the layout, construction, and maintenance of the departmental roads within it.[39]  The general councils of the départements are required to include expenditures for the construction and maintenance of the departmental roads in their yearly budgets.[40]

The general councils have fairly extensive budgetary powers, including the ability to incur debts[41] and the power to impose departmental taxes.[42]  These may include taxes on motor vehicles,[43] but the proceeds of such taxes are not necessarily tied to expenditures on road infrastructure.

B.  Municipal Roads

Each municipality is required to include expenditures for the maintenance of its municipal roads in its yearly budget.[44]  Municipalities can generate revenue from various local taxes, or from nontax sources, such as fines and revenue from investments.[45]  Spending on municipal roads does not appear to normally be tied to any specific type of revenue.

C.  Cross Funding

Construction of municipal and departmental road infrastructure is often financed by more than one entity.  Several municipalities can form “public intermunicipal cooperation bodies” (établissements publics de coopération intercommunale) to conduct joint projects, including road construction.[46]  Other territorial authorities can come together for joint projects as well: a département can participate in a joint project with one or several municipalities, or with regional authorities, or with other départements.[47]  Départements can receive contributions from municipalities for investment spending,[48] and each département also receives subsidies from the state for the specific purpose of infrastructure investments (including, but not limited to, roads) in rural areas.[49]

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IV.  Recent Developments

The French government was planning on implementing a tax on heavy trucks (weighing at least 1.5 metric tons) using national roads and nonconceded highways, starting on January 1, 2014.[50]  This tax, commonly referred to as the écotaxe, was meant to contribute to the financing of transportation infrastructures.[51]  The écotaxe was to be calculated on a per-kilometer basis, based on the vehicle’s size and age, and modified according to its level of polluting emissions.[52]

The prospect of paying this écotaxe triggered significant demonstrations, some of them violent, particularly in the region of Brittany.[53]  This eventually led the government to postpone the implementation of this tax,[54] perhaps until 2015.[55]

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Nicolas Boring
Foreign Law Specialist
March 2014

[1] Code de la voirie routière [Code of the Road System] arts. L111-1 & L121-1.

[2] Id. art. L121-1.

[3] The départements which are governed by an elected general council, are the main territorial and administrative subdivisions of France (Département, Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition, http://www.britan (last visited Jan. 24, 2014).

[4] Code de la voirie routière arts. L111-1 & L131-1.

[5] Id. arts. L111-1 & L141-1.

[6] Repères: Chiffres clés du transport – Édition 2013[References: Key Numbers of Transportation – 2013 Edition], Ministère de l’Ecologie, du Développement durable, et de l’Energie (Mar. 1, 2013),

[7] Id.

[8]Code de la voirie routière art. L111-1.

[9] Code de la voirie routière art. L121-1.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. art. L123-1.

[12] Les services routiers de l’Etat [The State’s Road-Related Services], Ministère de l’Ecologie, du Développement durable, et de l’Energie (July 7, 2010), tation-des-services-routiers.html.

[13] Projets routiers [Road Projects], Ministère de l’Ecologie, du Développement durable, et de l’Energie (May 30, 2012),

[14] Id.

[15] Id.; Ordonnance no. 2004-559 du 17 juin 2004 sur les contrats de partenariat [Ordinance No. 2004-559 of June 17, 2004 on Partnership Contracts], Journal Officiel de la République Française [J.O.] [Official Gazette of France], June 19, 2004, p. 10994, art. 1.

[16] Décret no. 2004-1317 du 26 novembre 2004 relatif à l’Agence de financement des infrastructures de transport de France [Decree No. 2004-1317 of November 26, 2004, Regarding the Agency for the Funding of Transportation Infrastructure of France), J.O., Dec. 1, 2004, p.20474, art. 1; Projets routiers, supra note 24.

[17] Décret no. 2004-1317 du 26 novembre 2004 [Decree No. 2004-1317 of November 26, 2004] art. 5, as modified by Décret no. 2006-894 du 18 juillet 2006 modifiant le décret no. 2004-1317 du 26 novembre 2004 relatif à l'Agence de financement des infrastructures de transport de France [Decree No. 2006-894 of July 18, 2006, Regarding the Agency for the Funding of Transportation Infrastructure of France], J.O., July 20, 2006, p.10911, art. 3; Projets routiers, supra note 24.

[18] Projets routiers, supra note 13.

[19] Code de la voirie routière art. L122-4.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Code de la voirie routière art. R*122-7.

[23] Modalités de financement [Modes of Financing], Caisse Nationale des Autoroutes, (last visited Jan. 24, 2014).

[24] Consistance et cartes du réseau routier national [Consistency and Maps of the National Road Network], Ministère de l’Ecologie, du Développement durable, et de l’Energie (June 10, 2013), http://www.

[25] Principaux tarifs 2013 [Principal Rates for 2013], Association des sociétés françaises d’autoroutes [Association of French Highway Companies] (Feb. 2013), File/Tarifs%2022%20f%C3%A9vrier%202013.pdf.

[26] Id.

[27] Stephanie Fontaine, Autoroutes: coup de chaud sur les prix des péages en France [Highways: Heat Wave on Toll Prices in France], L’Express, July 23, 2013,

[28] Principaux tarifs 2013, supra note 25.

[29] Les services routiers de l’Etat, supra note 12.

[30] Id.

[31] Décret no. 2006-304 du 16 mars 2006 portant création et organisation des directions interdépartementales des routes [Decree No. 2006-304 of March 16, 2006, Creating and Organizing the Interdepartmental Directorates for Roads], J.O., Mar. 17, 2006, p.4048, art. 1; Présentation de la DIR Atlantique [Introduction to DIR Atlantique], DIR Atlantique, (last updated Jan. 24, 2014).

[32] Décret no. 2006-304 du 16 mars 2006 art. 3.

[33] Christian Eckert & Alain Rodet, Rapport fait au nom de la Commission des finances, de l’economie generale et du contrôle budgetaire sur le projet de loi de finances pour 2013, Annexe No. 17 [Report for the Commission on Finance, General Economy, and Budgetary Control, on the Proposed Budgetary Law for 2013, Annex No. 17] 17, (Oct. 10, 2012), plf2013/b0251-tIII-a17.pdf.

[34] Projets routiers, supra note 13.

[35] Répartition par type de route [Distribution According to Road Type], Ministère de l’Ecologie, du Développement durable, et de l’Energie, Repartition-par-type-de-route (last updated Oct. 21, 2013).

[36] Code de la voirie routière art. L122-4.

[37] Répartition par type de route, supra note 35.

[38] Id.

[39] Code de la voirie routière art. L131-2.

[40] Code général des collectivités territoriales [General Code of Regional and Local Authorities] art. L3321-1(16).

[41] Id. arts. L3336-1 & L2337-3.

[42] Id. arts. L3212-1–L3212-2.

[43] Id. art. L3332-1(5).

[44] Id. art. L2321-2(20); Code de la voirie routière art. L141-8.

[45] Code général des collectivités territoriales arts. L2331-1–L2331-10.

[46] Id. arts. L5111-1 & L5210-1-1A.

[47] Id. art. L5111-1.

[48] Id. arts. L3212-3 & L3332-3(6).

[49] Id. arts. L3332-3(6), L3334-10–L3334-12.

[50] Taxe poids lourds (TPL ou écotaxe) [Heavy Truck Tax (TPL or Ecotax)],, http://vosdroits. (last updated Dec. 12, 2013).

[51] Id.

[52] Id.

[53] Stanislas du Guerny, La Bretagne reste vent debout contre l’écotaxe pour les poids lourds [Brittany Remains Up in Arms Against the Ecotaxe on Heavy Trucks], Les Echos (Oct. 27, 2013),

[54] Jean-Marc Ayrault, Premier ministre [Prime Minister], Déclaration de à l’issue de la réunion avec les élus Bretons [Declaration After Meeting with Breton Elected Officials] (Oct. 29, 2013), default/files/interventions/10.29_discours_de_jean-marc_ayrault_premier_ministre_a_lissue_de_la_reunion_ avec_les_elus_bretons.pdf

[55] Cyrille Pluyette, L’écotaxe devrait être décalée d’un an [The Ecotaxe Will Probably Be Pushed Back One Year], Le Figaro (Nov. 29, 2013),