Government calls for urgent action to reduce traffic chaos

Tailbacks have become a common sight on the approach to the Gotthard Tunnel Keystone Archive

The Swiss government has called for urgent action to reduce long tailbacks on the approach to the Gotthard Tunnel.

This content was published on January 10, 2002 - 16:44

The tunnel, Europe's main north-south transalpine axis, is used daily by thousands of truck drivers transiting through Switzerland.

But in the last few days the approach to the Gotthard has been transformed into a giant parking lot, with trucks waiting in line for up to five hours.

To alleviate pressure on the Gotthard, the government says it is considering the option of fining truck drivers who use the tunnel without official permission to do so.

Under proposals drawn up by the Federal Roads Authority, Swiss customs officials in the border town of Basel - one of the main entry points for lorries passing through Switzerland - would be given the power to prohibit truck drivers from exiting the country via the Gotthard Tunnel.

Handing out fines

Michael Gehrken, spokesman for the Federal Roads Authority, told swissinfo fines of up to SFr5,000 would be levied on any drivers who fail to heed the instructions of border officials.

"The federal department of transport is currently checking to ensure that this proposal fits into the framework of existing Swiss legislation," Gehrken explained.

If the proposals are approved, the new measures could be enforced as early as next month.

Government officials say the measures are necessary to ease pressure on the Gotthard, which last October was closed for nearly two months after a fire inside the tunnel left 11 people dead.

But Beat Keiser, spokesman for the Swiss Hauliers' Association, said the government's proposals would do little to improve the flow of trucks on Switzerland's roads.

"We are not sure this proposal is the right thing to do," Keiser said in an interview with swissinfo.

Contract with EU

"There is the problem that we have a contract with the European Union which agreed to allow traffic to transit through Switzerland. Therefore we cannot say now 'sorry, we're closing Switzerland to international traffic'," he added.

But Gehrken denies there is any conflict between commitments made to the EU and the future direction of national transport policy.

"These measures are compatible with the bilateral accords," he said.

Keiser fears there will be repercussions for Switzerland if the government presses ahead with its proposals.

European Union countries which border Switzerland, Keiser claims, may take counter measures to "block Swiss transporters all over Europe".

"Legally [the government's proposals] are possible, but politically we will have great problems with them," Keiser said.

Keiser says he does not believe the proposals will ease pressure on the Gotthard tunnel.

"Even if we take these measures and close Switzerland to international traffic, we will still have...traffic jams and queues," he commented.

"These measures are politically dangerous, are not useful and are just too late. This problem will stay with us for at least the next five years."

by Ramsey Zarifeh

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