Gotthard Road Tunnel
|The north entrance of Gotthard Road Tunnel|
|Route||Göschenen, Uri—Airolo, Ticino|
|Opened||September 5, 1980|
|Length||16.942 kilometres (10.527 mi)|
|Number of lanes||2|
The St. Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland runs from Göschenen in the Canton of Uri at its northern portal, to Airolo in Ticino to the south, and is 16.942 kilometres (10.527 mi) in length below the St. Gotthard Pass. It is the third-longest road tunnel in the world after Norway's Lærdal Tunnel (24.5 km), and China's Zhongnanshan Tunnel (18 km).
In response to the automobile boom in Switzerland and the popularity of Italy as a travel resort, the Swiss government gave approval in July 1969 for the construction of the 16-kilometre Gotthard Road tunnel. The tunnel would be longer than any existing road tunnel, and would provide year-round road link between central Switzerland and Milan to be used in place of the Gotthard Pass.
The now widely used motorway tunnel was opened on September 5, 1980. It remains a single bore tunnel with just one lane operating in each direction. It has four large ventilation shafts and an additional side gallery between 10 and 18 metres from the main tunnel, having its own independent ventilation system in order to facilitate the cutting of a second tunnel, should future traffic levels require it.
2001 collision and fire
On Friday, October 24, 2001, a collision of two trucks created a fire in the tunnel, killing eleven and injuring many more, the smoke and gases produced by the fires being the main cause of death. Despite reports that petrol was the cause of the fire, the truck that was hit was a diesel truck. Its driver, Bruno Saba, who survived the fire, kept on driving as he was afraid his diesel might catch fire. (Confusion over whether petrol or diesel was in the truck that was hit stems for a mistranslation of the word Diesel in the English version of the original article in German.)  The effects of even small fires in a confined space like a tunnel are extremely serious because of the inability of gases and heat to disperse. For instance, carbon monoxide is highly toxic at very low concentrations; having this trapped in a confined space allows concentrations to build well beyond a fatal level. The tunnel was closed for two months after the accident for repair and cleaning.
The St. Gotthard railway tunnel, close but separate from the expressway tunnel, handles rail traffic on the north-south line in Switzerland. It was opened 1882. In this category, however, it is no longer the record-holder. The Seikan Tunnel in Japan and the Channel Tunnel between the United Kingdom and France are both in excess of 50 km (31 mi).
Under construction since 2002 and projected open in late 2016, the Gotthard Base Tunnel (a second rail tunnel, 57 km long), will be the world's longest. It is being built for the use of trains travelling from northern Switzerland to the Ticino area and beyond.
The St. Gotthard tunnel forms part of the A2 motorway in Switzerland, running south from Basel through the tunnel down to Chiasso on the border with Italy. Traffic flows through only one tunnel, which carries traffic both ways, with each direction allocated only one lane. The tunnel's speed limit is 80 km/h (50 mph).
Heavily used, the tunnel often has traffic jams, on both the north and south ends. In contrast, another tunnel through the Alps, the San Bernardino road tunnel in the canton of Graubünden farther east, is relatively uncongested and shorter, but the road taken on that expressway is longer than the direct route through the St. Gotthard tunnel.
In the tunnel, a distance of 150 m (490 ft) between each truck is enforced.
Second road tunnel proposals
Construction on a second, parallel road tunnel was started. In first instance it was only built for safety: an escape route in case of accidents. This second tunnel can be built out to a full road tunnel, allowing four lanes of traffic. Efforts to do this have failed, blocked by political resistance. The Alpine Initiative "for the protection of the Alpine region from transit traffic", which raised barriers against road tunnel construction, was initially blocked by the Swiss Parliament. However, a February 1994 Alpine Initiative passed (with 52% of the vote), and Parliament upheld the referendum twice through the 1990s. The pro-tunnel Avanti Initiative brought a referendum to voters in February 2004, which was rejected (by 62.8%).
The Swiss government has decided to upgrade the second tunnel into a full road tunnel in order to allow for the necessary reconstruction of the first road tunnel. Once the works on the first tunnel are finished, the Swiss government plans to operate one single lane in every tunnel (northbound traffic in the newly constructed tunnel, southbound traffic in the renovated one) in order to maintain the current tunnel overall capacity, in compliance with the Swiss constitutional norm that forbids a further growth of the traffic capacity across the Alps. The reconstruction would have lasted for several years in any variant – one variant would push the traffic over the mountain pass, another proposed to load the vehicles onto trains with a new terminal, a third would close the tunnel for several months every year over time range of a decade. All of these have their drawbacks and the usage of the second tunnel is seen as the best option to allow for the reconstruction. Further usage of both tunnels is subject to a popular referendum that will probably be held in 2015. The actual upgrade mining of the second road tunnel would last from 2020 to 2027 at a cost of 2.7 billion Francs for the whole project including the following reconstruction of the first tunnel.
- "News and Views: Gotthard Road Tunnel". Autocar 131 (3843): 29. 31 July 1969.
- German http://www.swissinfo.ch/ger/gesellschaft/Gotthard-Strassentunnel_ist_sicherer_geworden.html?cid=31380918
- English http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/Gotthard_tunnel_safer_ten_years_after_inferno.html?cid=31390366
- Bilger, Burkhard, "The Long Dig: Getting through the Swiss Alps the hard way", The New Yorker, September 15, 2008
- Alpine-initiative.ch, History, accessed 2007-09-05.
- "Bundesrat will zweite Röhre für Gotthard-Strassentunnel". SF Schweizer Fernsehen. 2012-06-27. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
- The official information page of the Gotthard Tunnel (in German and Italian, few pages also in English)
- More statistics and facts (in German) (as well as info on a second expressway tunnel)
Arlberg Road Tunnel
13.98 km (8.69 mi)
|World's longest road tunnel
1980 – 2000
24.51 km (15.23 mi)