Major transport accord signed for Lake Geneva

David Hiler (left) and Pascal Broulis signing the "historic" transport accord at the Château de Prangins in canton Vaud Keystone

The Swiss cantons of Vaud and Geneva have signed an "historic" agreement to co-finance transport infrastructure projects in the booming Lake Geneva region.

This content was published on April 6, 2009 - 07:43

They hope the financing of work on a high-speed rail link between Lausanne and Geneva - worth SFr300 million ($263 million) - will speed up efforts to unclog the region's saturated rail and motorway network. Experts say the move is highly symbolic.

The Lake Geneva region is undergoing an unprecedented business boom. Over the past ten years it has managed to register consistently above-average growth, attracting new companies and residents.

But the flipside is that north of the lake, both the road and rail networks (150,000 movements per day) are saturated during rush hour and threaten to hold back growth.

The agreement represents an "historic change of perspective", say the presidents of the cantonal governments, Pascal Broulis (Vaud) and David Hiler (Geneva).

Both underlined the common economic, social and cultural destinies of the two cantons.

Although they already collaborate in various fields, "this is the first time that an agreement of this kind has been signed," noted Broulis.

"To admit that certain infrastructure is in our interest, even if it isn't on our territory, is not so obvious," said Hiler.

Highly symbolic

According to Xavier Comtesse, of the country's leading think tank Avenir Suisse, this political decision sends a signal to the rest of Switzerland that the Lake Geneva metropolis region exists. "This agreement will have a major impact".

The SFr300 million, with SFr200 million coming from canton Vaud and SFr100 million from canton Geneva, will be used to pre-finance work on various stages of the Geneva-Lausanne rail link, notably between Renens and the Vaud capital, as well as work at Mies and Chambesy, and between Renens and Allaman.

Work on the line can now be started in 2015, instead of 2020 as initially planned.

The two cantons also agreed to jointly lobby Bern regarding Geneva's regional transport network project (CEVA), major road works around the town Morges, west of Lausanne, and the project to build a road tunnel under the lake in Geneva.

Canton Vaud will also invest SFr10 million in the company that manages Geneva's international exhibition hall, Palexpo, considered an important supra-regional development project.

Shift

For Nicolas Schmitt, a researcher at Fribourg University's Institute of Federalism, this type of inter-cantonal agreement represents a shift in direction since the 1990s.

"Previously the trend was to transfer tasks and prerogatives to the federal government," he said.

But according to the federalism expert, a reform to share finances and tasks between the federal authorities and cantons, which entered into effect on January 1, 2008, has boosted inter-cantonal collaboration.

"Since then there has been a multiplication of inter-cantonal accords across Switzerland," said Schmitt. "They are mostly in the fields of state education, health or security, which are the competences of the cantons."

This kind of close cantonal collaboration shows how plans to merge Swiss cantons into just five or six administrative regions, a popular idea a few years ago, have now fizzled out, said Schmitt.

Comtesse, who supported this earlier move to fuse cantons, recognises that the strategy was misguided.

"The lesson from all this is that collaborations between cantons have intensified along common themes, transport, health and education, without having to change territorial or political structures. Today it's clear that you don't need more administration to modernise a region," he said.

Nicholas Schmitt agrees: "We really have to avoid messing around with cantonal borders and we should put emphasis on sectorial agreements."

swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

Key facts

Growth: from 2000 to 2007, the Lake Geneva region grew annually by 2.1%, just behind Basel, rising to 3% from 2004. This compares with 1.5% for the Greater Zurich area.

Over the past ten years, the population of cantons Vaud and Geneva has grown by 100,000 (+10%), surpassed only by cantons Fribourg, Zug and Schwyz (+15%). An additional 200,000 people are expected to move to the Lake Geneva region (Swiss side) by 2025.

Certain scenarios predict a 15% increase in rail passengers by 2015 and 30% by 2030.

Geneva airport recorded about 11 million passengers between April 2007 and April 2008 (+10%).

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