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Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Snarled traffic on Mont Blanc bridge may lead Genevans to vote in record numbers this weekend on whether to bore a road tunnel under the lake that divides Switzerland’s second-biggest city.
The Swiss People’s Party, known for its anti-immigration stance, has proposed a four-lane tunnel costing as much as 1.2 billion Swiss francs ($1.27 billion), close to where Lake Geneva empties into the Rhone River. That would link the city’s right bank, which houses embassies and United Nations agencies, with Geneva’s historic center on the left bank that is home to most private banks and hedge-fund managers.
Geneva’s Grand Council voted by a margin of two to one against the tunnel on Feb. 13, led by opposition from the Socialists, Greens, Christian Democrats and Liberal Radicals. Opponents say the cost of the link could almost double to 2 billion francs and would encourage commuters to switch to cars from trains and buses. While Touring Club Suisse says the tunnel would cut traffic on lakeside boulevards by half, cantonal authorities cite studies showing a 50 percent increase in volumes on key routes on either side of the crossing.
“We need this tunnel, it’s essential for us,” Jean-Claude Briguet, a 46-year-old taxi driver, said as he sat in a Friday afternoon traffic jam in front of the lakeside Beau Rivage hotel, where Empress Elisabeth of Austria was once a regular guest. “It would mean less traffic, less air pollution, less noise.”
While the referendum is set for Sept. 28, by yesterday more than 113,000 Genevans had already voted electronically or by mail. That’s a participation rate of 46 percent, according to a government website, compared with a record turnout of 61.6 percent in February 2008 for referendums that led to a ban on smoking in public places and rejected proposals for free public transport.
The tunnel will eventually cause more snarl ups and pose a safety hazard, according to a group calling itself “No to the Harbor Crossing.”
“Building a tunnel will cause even worse traffic jams during the years it takes to construct,” said 77-year-old retiree Christiane Salama, who lives in the right-bank suburb of Versoix. “I’m scared it could affect the groundwater, and it’s going to go right under our beautiful parks.”
While Geneva votes on the tunnel, the canton of 476,000 people will also take part in Sunday’s national referendums on reducing the value-added tax rate in restaurants and changing the health insurance system to a single public provider.
Geneva has been debating a cross-harbor link since architect Albert Trachsel proposed a tunnel in 1896. Early in the 20th century Le Corbusier, whose face adorns the Swiss 10- franc note, submitted a plan for a bridge. While the government considered six options in the 1960s, funding couldn’t be found. A referendum in 1996 rejected plans to build either a bridge or a tunnel.
The tunnel that would connect Avenue de France on the right bank with Port-Noir, near the Geneva yacht club in the affluent suburb of Cologny, is separate from a proposal to build a crossing further down the lake to carry highway traffic by 2030.
--With assistance from Albertina Torsoli in Geneva.
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