I have become a bit obsessed. Not with Taylor Swift, not even with David Gandy’s swimwear (ahem). Nope. Tunnels. Yep, you read that right. I have become a tiny (actually, maybe a lot) obsessed by tunnels. The Swiss are also obsessed by them, there are at least 220 of them in the country.
It is understandable that the Swiss have become adept at building tunnels – I mean why waste time going over a mountain when you can just drill straight through it. It also fits well with the Swiss national character. Secretive, efficient, impressive attention to detail, but with a tendency to appear in surprising places. It’s this latter that convinces me of their obsession and which has sparked mine.
On Sunday 14th June there is a ballot taking place for a new tunnel in Zug. Actually this isn’t your bog standard tunnel straight through a mountain, this is more an underground bypass for the town, complete with 4 entry/exit points and even an underground roundabout. Just consider for a moment what a feat of engineering this is. I mean what? how? Just amazing.
Tunnel building is something that the Swiss are truly accomplished at. At the end of next year the Worlds Longest Rail Tunnel – the Gotthard Base Tunnel – is due to open after 17 years work. It is a true engineering masterpiece. Ultimately this tunnel connects Switzerland to Italy and is a massive 57 kilometres long that will carry 15,000 passengers from Zurich to Milan in just under 3 hours. It has cost 8 lives and 9.8 billion CHF (approx 6.7 billion GBP), its main benefit will be a 20% increase in the freight that travels between Genoa and Rotterdam. Yep, the Swiss love their tunnels.
The proposal for the Zug Stadttunnel however, has got me thinking that their obsession is going a bit too far. The project has lots of local support, with all sides waxing lyrical about a beautiful, peaceful, car free town centre. It is also a perfect example of Swiss democracy at work as everyone has a voice and, if it gets the go ahead (which is fully expected), everyone will share the cost. It is the cost that is giving the ‘Nein’ campaign its fuel. Understandable when you discover that this underground road network is currently projected to cost a whopping (hope you are sat down) 890 million CHF (that’s about 613 million GBP)! So does this massive cost pale into insignificance when the benefits of the scheme are laid out? Well, this is where I stumble. I’m not altogether sure that there are any real, tangible, bona fide benefits beyond the creation of a larger pedestrian zone with more outside coffee spots.
Is there a ridiculously high level of road traffic accidents in the town? Nope. In 2014 there were ‘only’ 872 RTAs in the whole of the canton – so only a tiny proportion of the 23,000 vehicles that pass each day through Zug town were involved in a collision of any kind. Are there huge numbers of road fatalities? Nope. Is there a huge amount of freight transport that struggles to pass through the town? Nope. Is there an issue with pollution? Nope. As far as I can see it is just a normal, bustling town centre. If vehicle access becomes restricted will it really benefit the town? Cosmopolitan Zurich is only 30 minutes away, Zug could be in danger of becoming a picturesque ghost town. More importantly though, what would the residents do at the weekend if they can’t cruise through Zug in their McLaren road cars or custom built Ferrari’s?
In 2011 the Hindhead Tunnel in Surrey opened in the UK. The tunnel, measuring 1.9km, cost £300 million (approx 435 million CHF) and was built to improve road networks between the south coast and London. 10 mile tailbacks had been the norm along this stretch of road and the consequent damage to wildlife, local residents, freight companies and individuals was immense. The Hindhead Tunnel, in my humble opinion and, I suspect, in the opinion of its 36,000 daily users, has been a solution worth every penny.
For me, the Zug Stadttunnel is not being proposed through any urgent need, it appears to be a vanity project. We will do it just because we can. There is no major problem that will be solved by this tunnel. When the final check is written for the construction cost, it will be interesting to see if it will also mark the end of the Swiss love affair with tunnels. Perhaps it it will mark the beginning of underground living.
In a shock result the people of Zug saw send and voted ‘Nein’ to the Stadttunnel project. Here marks the end of the tunnel obsession. The Zug Post reported the result which you can read here…