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Unexpected tunnel closure leaves truckers stranded

The Gotthard and San Bernardino tunnels will remain closed to northbound trucks until Friday Keystone Archive

Switzerland's two main traffic arteries were closed temporarily on Thursday to northbound trucks, crippling the flow of traffic through the Alps.

This content was published on March 14, 2002 - 19:55

Ticino police unexpectedly closed the Gotthard and San Bernardino tunnels for seven hours to trucks travelling north, following heavy congestion.

The tunnels were shut after a 15-kilometre traffic jam had built up on the south side of the Gotthard tunnel on Wednesday evening.

The move was heavily criticised by both the Swiss and Italian hauliers associations. Hans-Peter Tanner of the Swiss Hauliers Association, Astag, called the traffic situation at the Gotthard "absolutely chaotic".

"We have not been informed about this decision and it shows that the 'red phase' system does not improve the traffic situation but makes it worse," he said.

Giorgio Colato, president of the Italian Hauliers Association, FAI, said the closure made no sense at all and he reminded Switzerland of its commitment to the free flow of goods traffic.

He also criticised Switzerland for what he said was a lack of communication between the two countries. "We have never received any detailed information about the 'red phase'", he said.

Red phase

The so-called "red phase" regulation was introduced this month and allows the cantons of Ticino and Uri - on either side of the Gotthard and San Bernardino tunnels - to close the arteries in one direction as soon as waiting areas for lorry drivers become overcrowded.

The closure can be introduced with immediate effect and has to be lifted by midday the following day.

Michael Gehrken, spokesman for the Swiss Federal Roads Authority, said his office had not been informed about the decision. "These decisions are up to the cantons," he said.

He also implied that Ticino police should have closed the tunnels on Wednesday afternoon in order to deal with the overcrowded waiting areas.

"This is not a criticism but it shows that we still have a lot to learn with this new system," Gehrken added.

High time

Fabrizio Cieslakiewicz, the mayor of Quinto in canton Ticino, insisted it was high time for the tunnels to be closed down, as truck traffic had been unbearable for the past few days.

"The last three nights were intolerable," he said. "Because of the traffic jam the lorry drivers were honking their horns non-stop in protest."

For Cieslakiewicz the only solution is to limit the number of lorries crossing the border at Chiasso to 3,500 per day.

swissinfo with agencies

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