The Vielha tunnel (Aranese: Tunèl de Vielha, Catalan and Spanish: Túnel de Viella) is a road tunnel in north-west Catalonia, connecting Vielha, the capital of the Aran valley, with the Alta Ribagorça comarca. It is part of the N-230 road and consists of 2 parallel tunnels. The older one, named Alfonso XIII Tunnel in honour of Spanish king Alfonso XIII, was opened in 1948 and became the longest road tunnel in the world, with a length of 5240 metres, until 1964, when the Great St Bernard Tunnel was inaugurated. The new tunnel, named Juan Carlos I Tunnel in honour of Spanish king Juan Carlos I, is 5230 metres long and was opened in 2007 with 2 lanes in southbound direction and 1 lane in northbound one. The old tunnel is nowadays used as an emergency exit and, since July 2011, also as a lane used by trucks which carry flammable or otherwise dangerous products.
Before the 20th century the Aran valley was not easily accessible from the rest of Catalonia, specially during the winter snow season, when the Vielha mountain pass, at a height of 2.450 m above sea level, was closed. It was not possible to cross that pass with motor vehicles because the road was too narrow.
In 1830, the politician Pascual Madoz had the idea of building this tunnel. On that year 2 French engineers, Auriol and Partiot, prepared the first project. Construction finally started in 1926 and lasted 22 years, including the Spanish Civil War period from 1936 to 1939. The tunnel was inaugurated in 1948, drastically reducing the time required to access the valley. During heavy snowfalls, in winter time, the tunnel was sometimes closed.
At the beginning of the 1980s the tunnel was reinforced, new asphalt and new lighting was introduced, and curved concrete walls were built at both ends, to avoid excessive air flow. During the 1980s and 1990s the tunnel became too old for the increasing vehicle traffic. The project of building a parallel new tunnel was requested in 1989 and approved in 1997. In 1999, after the Mont Blanc Tunnel accident, the project was accelerated. In 2000 the old tunnel was ranked as the most dangerous tunnel in Europe, due to the lack of security and emergency facilities. The new tunnel construction started in January 2002 and the work was temporarily stopped in winter 2005–2006 because the project had to be adjusted due to new safety laws. The new tunnel, named Juan Carlos I Tunnel in honor of Spanish king Juan Carlos I, was finally inaugurated on December 4, 2007.
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- Page with New Vielha Tunnel information (Spanish) (English)
||World's longest road tunnel
Great St Bernard Tunnel
5.80 km (3.60 mi)