We present new min-max relations in digraphs between the number of paths satisfying certain conditions and the order of the corresponding cuts. We define these objects in order to capture, in the context of solving the half-integral linkage problem, the essential properties needed for reaching a large bramble of congestion two (or any other constant) from the terminal set. This strategy has been used ad-hoc in several articles, usually with lengthy technical proofs, and our objective is to abstract it to make it applicable in a simpler and unified way. We provide two proofs of the min-max relations, one consisting in applying Menger’s Theorem on appropriately defined auxiliary digraphs, and an alternative simpler one using matroids, however with worse polynomial running time.

As an application, we manage to simplify and improve several results of Edwards et al. [ESA 2017] and of Giannopoulou et al. [SODA 2022] about finding half-integral linkages in digraphs. Concerning the former, besides being simpler, our proof provides an almost optimal bound on the strong connectivity of a digraph for it to be half-integrally feasible under the presence of a large bramble of congestion two (or equivalently, if the directed tree-width is large, which is the hard case). Concerning the latter, our proof uses brambles as rerouting objects instead of cylindrical grids, hence yielding much better bounds and being somehow independent of a particular topology.

We hope that our min-max relations will find further applications as, in our opinion, they are simple, robust, and versatile to be easily applicable to different types of routing problems in digraphs.