Environmentalists have called on the government to abandon plans for a second transalpine road tunnel at the Gotthard in central Switzerland. The existing tunnel needs major repair after more than 30 years in operation.
The Alpine Initiative group, supported by 30 other organisations, on Thursday handed in a petition signed by about 68,000 people, urging the authorities to reconsider the plans.
The move comes as part of a broad consultation about a draft bill by the cabinet for parliament.
Fabio Pedrina, president of the Alpine Initiative, said the petition was “good news for the protection of the alpine environment”. He added that his group would not hesitate to challenge a parliamentary decision to build a second road thoroughfare at the Gotthard to a nationwide vote.
Campaigners say a transfer of heavyweight trucks and cars from road to rail would be cheaper than the upgrading of an existing parallel service tunnel for traffic.
They warned of health problems for the local population at the access road to the tunnel as a result of increasing road traffic. The construction of a second tube within the tunnel also breaches a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1994 to put trucks crossing the major transalpine European passage onto rail, they say.
The Gotthard tunnels in central Switzerland are one of the main transalpine routes linking northern and southern Europe.
An initial 15km rail tunnel, linking Göschenen and Airolo, was completed in 1881 and opened for traffic a year later.
A longer base tunnel – including two single track tubes and measuring 57km – is under construction. It is scheduled to open by December 2016.
The 16km Gotthard road tunnel opened for traffic in 1980.
It is a single-bore tunnel with one lane operating in each direction from Göschenen and Airolo.
Among the options on the table for the renovation of the road tunnel is the upgrading of a parallel tube, currently used as emergency service tunnel.
The environmentalists are supported by the centre-left Social Democrats and the Green Party.
The political centre-right and the business community argue a second road tunnel is important for the country’s economy and for road safety. In 2001, a collision of two trucks in the tunnel left at least 11 people dead.
“It has repeatedly been proven by scientists that tunnels with single-lane traffic in two directions are far more dangerous than tunnels with one-directional traffic,” said a statement by the umbrella organisation of road transporters, the car industry and automobile clubs.
Last year, the Gotthard tunnel was crossed by more than 17,200 vehicles, including heavyweight trucks, every day. The tunnel opened for traffic in 1980 and is one of the major transalpine thoroughfares in central Europe.
By Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch and agencies