In the run-up to the February 28 vote on whether or not to build a second road tunnel through the Gotthard pass, safety calculations are being used to support both sides of the argument.
On Saturday, an analysis in French-language newspaper Le Temps dissected a 2013 study from the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention (BPA) comparing the safety risks of adding a second road tunnel to the risks of maintaining a single, bidirectional route through the pass connecting northern and southern Switzerland.
Proponents of a second tunnel argue that it will decrease traffic accidents on the 16.9 km Gotthard, which has guided five million cars through the Alps each year since 1980 and is in need of restructuring. But opponents argue that more traffic and pollution are inevitable outcomes of a second tunnel.
The BPA found that the construction of a second, uni-directional tunnel “would reduce the annual number of casualties by about six".
On Tuesday, swissinfo.ch will publish an in-depth look at the different safety strategies – and technologies – being proposed by both camps in answer to this difficult question.
"The BPA study shows that a bidirectional tunnel is more dangerous than the distribution of the two traffic flows in two separate tunnels", Rudolf Zumbühl of Touring Club Switzerland (TCS) told Le Temps.
But the BPA also considered a second scenario in which both tunnels were bi-directional. They found that given an estimated 3% increase in traffic per day (500 vehicles), any gain in safety would be “cancelled out”.
The Le Temps article suggests that the study feeds both arguments – but perhaps more so the opposition, given their conclusion that, “from the standpoint of road safety, the costly construction of a second tunnel does not present...a good cost-benefit ratio for scenario 1, and could even make the situation worse in scenario 2".
However, a spokesperson for the BPA contacted by the newspaper stated that the study addresses all sides of the argument, and that the organisation remains neutral on the issue.