The French motorway system functions on the basic principle of entrusting network construction and operation to concession-holding companies. The concessions are allowed under article L. 122-4 of the Road-System Code, which extends the provisions of the 18 April 1955 Act defining the status of motorways.
Of the 10,843 km of motorways in service at year-end 2005, 8,174 km—or 75,4%—are operated by concessionaires.
The French government approves concession agreements and the accompanying specifications via decrees promulgated by the Conseil d’État. The approved concessionaire is responsible for the construction, maintenance, and operation of the designated motorways in return for a toll collected from users. Toll income is used to pay for infrastructure construction, operations, and maintenance, as well as to generate returns on, and amortise, concessionaires’ investments.
The number and structure of motorway concessionary firms have varied as the network has grown.
Since the end of the privatisation process, initiated in July 2005 and finalised during the first quarter of 2006, the Frenchmotorway system has comprised 17 concession-holders: 15 fully private companies and two public-private entities, the majority of whose equity is in the hands of the public fund for the development of an inter-modal transport policy in the Alps..
The fifteen private motorway operators are:
- ASF and ESCOTA;
- APRR and AREA;
- Sanef and SAPN;
- la Compagnie financière et industrielle des autoroutes (Cofiroute);
- la Compagnie Eiffage du Viaduc de Millau (CEVM);
- la société de l’autoroute de liaison Seine-Sarthe (ALIS, operator of the A28 motorway between Rouen and Alençon);
- la société Arcour (operator of the A 19 motorway between Artenay and Courtenay);
- la société Adelac (operator of the A 41 motorway between Annecy and Geneva);
- la société A’liénor (operator of the A 65 motorway between Langon and Pau);
- la société Alicorne (operator of the A 88 motorway between Falaise and Sées);
- la société Atlandes operator of the A 63 motorway between Salles and Saint-Geours de-Maremne);
- la société Albéa (operator of the A 150 motorway between Ecalles-Alix and Barentin).
The first six companies (ex-SEMCA) are the only companies that are now private to have used the CNA system to finance their investments; their outstanding debt with the CNA on 31 December 2016 was 2.896 billion € (i.e. 63,72 % of the total outstanding debt). In accordance with commitments made during their respective partial privatizations in March 2002, November 2004 and March 2005, the ASF, APRR and Sanef groups have gradually left the CNA system. So the ASF/ESCOTA and APRR/AREA and Sanef/SAPN groups have no longer been able to use CNA loans since year-end 2005, year-end 2008 and year-end 2009 respectively. The last nine private companies have never benefited from the CNA financing system.
The last two semi-public motorway concession holders are:
- the Société Autoroutes et Tunnel du Mont-Blanc (ATMB) the operator for the tunnel du Mont-Blanc et de l’Autoroute Blanche (A 40) which provides access to it from France;
- the French company of the Tunnel Routier du Fréjus (SFTRF), the operator for the road tunnel of Fréjus and the motorway of la Maurienne (A 43) which givesaccess to it from France. These two SEMCA remain in the French motorway concession system and are financed via the CNA (1.152 billion € of cumulative outstanding debt at 31 December 2016, i.e.25,35 % of the CNA’s total debt).
Also operating within the French road and motorway system are The Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie of Le Havre, the concession holder for the Pont de Tancarville and the Pont de Normandie as well as local authorities who hold concessions for construction work. Their charges are fixed by Conseil d’État decree (article L 153-5 of the road system code).