The main Swiss motoring association has come out in support of a proposal to improve Swiss roads to deal with increasing traffic.
But environmental groups warn that it would lead to increased noise pollution and a rising number of health-related problems.
The project was launched in the wake of parliament’s rejection of the earlier Avanti initiative, which included plans for upgrading Switzerland’s main roads and a second road through the Gotthard tunnel - the main transalpine route.
The Swiss touring club said the proposal offered fair and balanced solutions for both pubic and private transport.
But the association for transport and environment said that while this “counter project” aims to improve on the Avanti initiative by also dealing with traffic in built up areas and transferring more cargo from trucks to trains, it will only exacerbate the problem of pollution.
Quoting a study by Hugues Burkhalter, a doctor involved with environmental matters, the association says 30 to 40 per cent of the Swiss population suffers as a result of traffic noise.
Burkhalter claims that excessive traffic noise affects one in two households.
This noise, he adds, can cause serious illness, including cardiovascular problems. An estimated two per cent of cardiovascular deaths are caused by exposure to excessive traffic noise, the study found.
Because the project would not significantly reduce the number of vehicles on the road, but rather expand existing roads and create new ones, it would worsen these health risks, Burkhalter concludes.
But the transport ministry claims the study is based on the original Avanti initiative and not the counter-project, and is therefore irrelevant. It stresses that the proposal ensures legal noise limits are not exceeded.
It also argues that the volume of traffic on Swiss roads will increase by 15 to 30 per cent by 2020, whether the roads are improved or not. The counter project is therefore necessary, it says, if large gridlocks are to be avoided.
The counter project, which was approved by the federal authorities on October 3, will be put to the popular vote on February 8.
swissinfo with agencies
Main elements of the counter project:
Expand the capacity of Switzerland’s main roads to deal with increasing volumes of traffic.
Construct a second Gotthard tunnel to deal with traffic jams on the north-south route.
Modernise rail infrastructures so more cargo can be transported by train instead of by road.
The federal authorities to invest SFr300-350 million, while the cantonal and city authorities would provide half the funds (SFr600-700 million).