BERN / ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – Expect miracles. The end is in sight for the long holiday delays to get through the Gotthard Tunnel, a 10 km main north-south channel for road traffic in Europe. The Swiss government announced Wednesday that it will widen the major artery, which opened in 1980, by building a second road tunnel through the Gotthard range, at a cost of CHF2.81 billion.
But don’t expect miracles overnight and beware that a new tunnel does not mean double the traffic. It will not open before 2027 and the government insists it wants the law to limit traffic to one lane in each direction at any given time, as part of efforts to protect the Alps. Once both tunnels are open, the additional two lanes will be used as an emergency lane, even in peak holiday periods.
A key factor is the urgent need to completely overhaul the current tunnel, due to age, and it must be closed for the roadworks to be done. The tunnel connects cantons Uri and Ticino and closing the road would shut off Ticino’s lifeline to the rest of Switzerland.
Safety should improve
The new road will also make it possible to separate traffic going in opposite directions, a significant safety factor behind the decision to build. Fires will always remain a danger, Bern points out, and it is keen to be able to ensure sufficient distance between trucks.
The Federal Council, which presented its proposal Wednesday 27 June, says the new tunnel is the best solution among several studied, including an option to have the Gotthard train tunnel pick up the road traffic by loading cars onto trains. Each solution had drawbacks and strong points, the seven-member governing body says.
Popular referendum, legal snags likely
The project will likely be put to a popular referendum, says the council, after it heads to parliament for debate there. The long building time takes into account the near-certainty of legal delays.
The project undertaking one of the biggest road projects in the country in years. The current tunnel is used by more than 5 million cars and close to 1 million trucks a year.
Simply redoing the current tunnel will cost from CHF650 to 890 million. The cost of a rail “autoroute” for trucks between Rynächt in Uri and Biasca, Ticino, would be CHF410-770 million. Shifting car passengers to trains would cost CHF160-280. An additional cost, no matter what solution is used, is that of keeping the road over the top open longer than usual for the summer months.