Jump to content
Your browser is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this websites. Learn how to update your browser[Close]

February 28 vote


Safety and environment drive road tunnel vote




The Gotthard road tunnel is the main transport link for cars and trucks crossing the Swiss Alps  (Keystone)

The Gotthard road tunnel is the main transport link for cars and trucks crossing the Swiss Alps 

(Keystone)

Voters on Sunday will decide on the construction of an additional road tunnel through the central Swiss Alps, one of Europe’s main north-south links for cars, buses and trucks.

A broad coalition of environmental groups and mainly leftwing parties is challenging last year’s decision by parliament to build a second 17km tube through the Gotthard massif in the heart of Switzerland.

The government says the existing tunnel needs renovation after more than 35 years. A second parallel arm would absorb the more than 17,000 vehicles on average passing the thoroughfare every day.

Later on, the two tunnels will only be used for one-directional traffic and limited to one lane only, the authorities have pledged.

The government and parliament claim the second tunnel – costing about CHF2.8 billion ($2.8 billion) – will help ensure road safety and provide continuous access to a north-south road link all year round both for economic and political reasons.

The southern Ticino region - bordering Italy's Lombardy and Piedmont regions - would be cut off from the rest of Switzerland if the existing tunnel closed without an equivalent offer, they say.

Nearly 40 people have died in road accidents in the 17km tunnel since 1980, including 11 victims of a fire in 2001. 

More traffic

However, opponents have warned the second tunnel would attract more traffic and increase pressure from the European Union to allow the use of a second lane in both tunnels.

They also argue the proposed solution is too expensive and came too early, since Switzerland will open the world’s longest rail tunnel through the Gotthard in June. Its construction cost about CHF12 billion.

“Doubling of the Gotthard tunnel would sabotage the transfer of goods from road to rail,” claims Jon Pult, president of the Alpine Initiative group leading the No campaign.

However, Senator Filippo Lombardi, supporting the project, says rejecting an additional tunnel just means leaving future generations with the problem of renovating the existing tunnel, which will come up every 30-40 years.

At the launch of the campaign last October, Transport Minister Doris Leuthard dismissed concerns about a gradual opening of additional lanes in the two tunnels, saying such a move would require another nationwide vote to amend the constitution.

Four issues on ballot sheet

Apart from the referendum on the construction of a second road tunnel through the Gotthard, three other issues feature on the ballot sheet.

A proposal to implement to the letter a rightwing initiative aimed at deporting criminal foreigners.

An initiative to end fiscal discrimination against married couples.

An initiative by an alliance of leftwing groups to ban financial speculation with foodstuffs.

Opponents win ground

Experts say the Sunday vote could go either way. A final opinion poll carried out at the beginning of February saw opponents narrowing the margin considerably.

“This is quite unusual,” says political scientist Martina Mousson of the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute.

Given the intense campaigning over several months and dwindling support by leading media, the government as well as most political parties risk facing a defeat similar to a nationwide vote in 1994, when a coalition of environmentalists and leftwing parties won an unexpected victory.

Their proposal to cap transalpine road traffic and to promote a plan to put long-haul trucks onto rail went down as a major upset at the ballot box.

Critics have since accused the government and parliament of failing to implement the initiative, as targets to reduce the number of trucks crossing the Alps of trucks were missed and deadlines later extended.

But voters remained adamant and also rejected a proposal in 2004 to build a second Gotthard road tunnel.

Turnout in Sunday’s ballot is expected to be clearly above average, at least 55%.

swissinfo.ch



Links

Copyright

All rights reserved. The content of the website by swissinfo.ch is copyrighted. It is intended for private use only. Any other use of the website content beyond the use stipulated above, particularly the distribution, modification, transmission, storage and copying requires prior written consent of swissinfo.ch. Should you be interested in any such use of the website content, please contact us via contact@swissinfo.ch.

As regards the use for private purposes, it is only permitted to use a hyperlink to specific content, and to place it on your own website or a website of third parties. The swissinfo.ch website content may only be embedded in an ad-free environment without any modifications. Specifically applying to all software, folders, data and their content provided for download by the swissinfo.ch website, a basic, non-exclusive and non-transferable license is granted that is restricted to the one-time downloading and saving of said data on private devices. All other rights remain the property of swissinfo.ch. In particular, any sale or commercial use of these data is prohibited.

×