Paving the way for public transport in cities
The government wants to boost spending on public transport in a bid to tackle increasing road traffic congestion in Switzerland's urban areas.
Parliament looks set to accept the idea in principle but there is disagreement over what sources can be tapped to finance rail traffic in metropolitan areas.
More than two-thirds of the SFr20 billion ($15.3 billion) fund is to be spent on the country's motorway network. The remainder is to be set aside for public and private transport infrastructure in and around cities.
Otto Laubacher, parliamentarian for the rightwing Swiss People's Party, is reluctant to sing the praises of the so-called infrastructure fund.
"The project unilaterally favours the promotion of rail traffic and seeks to give environmentalists an unfair advantage," he says.
Nevertheless, he agrees with centre-right parties, the government as well as environmentalists and the centre-left, that the status quo on Swiss roads is untenable.
"Something has to be done to ease the traffic flow in urban areas," he adds.
Franziska Teuscher of the Green Party and president of the Transport and Environment Association takes a pragmatic approach to the infrastructure fund.
"The system will allow the promotion of public transport projects with money from road taxes."
Motorways and cities
About SFr14 billion is to go towards completing and maintaining the motorways over the next two decades, while about SFr6 billion will be invested in plans aimed at easing urban congestion. They include rail projects around Zurich, Geneva and in southern Ticino – linking up to the northern Italian city of Milan.
"About 70 per cent of the Swiss population live in urban areas. They are directly affected by traffic jams, pollution and noise," says Christian Albrecht of the Federal Spatial Development Office.
This unit, within the transport ministry, is in charge of the project, which the Senate is due to debate next week.
Albrecht says the fund is an asset for the economy because it seeks to guarantee access to Switzerland's business hubs, such as Zurich.
It also gives the federal authorities a greater say in traffic planning in urban areas.
The country's cantons and local authorities traditionally enjoy a great deal of autonomy in decisions on traffic issues.
The divisive factor of the infrastructure fund is the planned distribution of the finances relying on existing sources of revenue, including fuel tax and road duties.
Laubacher and the road traffic lobby are adamant that the money destined for the improvement and maintenance of the road network should not be used for railway projects.
Teuscher for her part insists that a redistribution of the money is in the foremost interest of motorists.
"There are limits to a road system in urban regions. The more vehicles we get off the road in and around the cities, the better for those people and businesses relying on road transport," she says.
The government is committed to an integrated policy approach, according to Albrecht.
He says it is not about giving one sector - rail or road – an advantage but to solve urgent problems.
The idea for the infrastructure fund was launched in the wake of voters' rejection in 2004 of plans to upgrade the country's road network, including the construction of a second road tunnel through the Gotthard mountain.
swissinfo, Urs Geiser
A proposal to upgrade the country's main road system, including a second road tunnel through the Gotthard, and investing in public transport was rejected in a nationwide vote in 2004.
The first stretch of motorway in Switzerland opened in 1963. The planned network is due to be completed by about 2020.
The Swiss motorway network covers a total of 1,892 kilometres. By the end of last year 1,755 kilometres were completed. The main outstanding stretches are round the country's main city of Zurich, in the northwestern Jura region and the Valais region.
The government has earmarked SFr20 billion ($15.3 billion) over 20 years for the infrastructure fund.
The bulk of the money is to be used to complete and maintain the national motorway network and public transport system in urban areas.
A small fraction of the fund is also destined for rail projects in metropolitan regions.
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