History of Gotthardstrasse
until 4. Century:
In roman times already a alpine track in the Gotthard region was known. Yet
more important at the time was the connection from the Valais through
Rhone valley over Furkapass, then along the Urseren valley across Oberalp
and on to Vorderrhein (Raetia), because that was roman territory. Ticino was probably connected to that road
too. The continuation from Urseren to the North was less important.
About 1200, with the mastering of Schoellenen gorge, an acceptable
access from the North to Gotthard was achieved. Unrest in the 13th
Century, increasing settlement, growing alp-crossing commercial and
pilgrims traffic was the time for far sighted Uri citizen. They found ways
for achieving far reaching freedom and independence in their local
decisions. By looking ahead and investing they made the North/South route
by way of Gotthardpass more and more attractive for Transport. As a result
the locals got work and income from the transport business and the
local government was able to collect toll. Obviously the busy
international traffic made the locals open minded. It's hardly accidental that the foundation of the Swiss confederation began here.
Consequently, tracks for the crossing were steadily improved and made
more secure. In about the 14th Century first reports
about a unique mule track are reported. Time needed from Bellinzona to
Fluelen, on foot, about 30 hrs.
In the 17th Century an
acceptable mule track existed (Teufelsbruecke), although there were some local hazards.
1708 "Urnerloch" was opened, a Tunnel between Teufelsbruecke and
alpine pass was now important, not the least because of the territorial
claims by Uri and the Swiss federation in the South. During the wars in
the 18th and 19th Century Gotthard was of imminent
About 1820 a reasonable road existed between Chiasso by Lugano over
Monte Ceneri up to Giornico. For the extension between Amsteg/Goeschenen
and Giornico/Airolo the financing had to be solved first. Finally, in 1826
the first "real" Gotthard road was finished, with the Highlights
Schoellenen (Goeschenen/Andermatt), Tremola (Gotthardpass/Airolo),
Piottino gorge (Rodi), Biaschina gorge (Giornico). Another important and
technologically difficult part was the new road between Brunnen and
Fluelen, the Axenstrasse. This part was opened 1865. A major step into the
future, because up to that time, for the continuation of the route to
Luzern the boat had to be used!
Gotthard route very quickly became one of the most important
North/South connections. Not surprisingly, soon improvements were
demanded. At the beginning of the 19th Century the mail coach was
superseded by the Postauto.
After intense discussions and a lot of
lobbying, in 1866 the construction of a railway line was decided.
20. Century, the Gotthard road:
Soon after the train line was in operation, road traffic increased
massive too. A first upgrade was started before WWII. The second between
1948 and 1975 with new lines and amazing technical constructions. As an
alternative to the pass route a train service between Goeschenen and
Airolo was in operation: cars would be moved onto special rail wagons (travel time through the tunnel was about
15 Minutes). The same system is presently in
operation on Loetschberg, Furka and Vereina.
A major step was done by the construction of the national road
(Autobahn) N2/E35. Beside remarkable viaducts, bridges, tunnels, the new
Gotthard road tunnel was an important element. With a length of 16 km it
was opened 1980. The construction consists of one pipe with two-way road
and a separate security tunnel, which runs parallel to the road tunnel
(suitable for security and maintenance cars). Security - and road tunnel
are connected with each other all 250 m by a connection tunnel and safety rooms. In the road tunnel there are emergency side-tracks every
A memorial on the main road remembers the 19 workers who lost their
the construction of the Autobahn-Tunnel.
In the same year the Seelisberg tunnel (9 km long with two separate
lanes for both directions) was opened for traffic.
Opening of the tunnel and the Autobahn N2 (now A2/E35) was followed
a massive increase of transit traffic.
By the "Alpenschutz Initiative", which was surprisingly
accepted in a referendum by the Swiss voters, the constitution contains now
an article demanding that capacity for alp-crossing roads must not be
enlarged. Goods crossing the alps, have to be transported by train.
Consequently, the voters accepted large sums for upgrading the national
rail network (NEAT).
From the time of the construction of the Autobahn tunnel the permitted
load has been raised and the trucks have become wider, thus increasing the
attraction of the Gotthard route.
In the most severe accident, on Oct. 24th 2001 two trucks
collided inside the tunnel: 11 people died; 13 trucks, 4 vans and 6 cars were destroyed. Repair
of the tunnel was finished 2 months later.
While some now, "because of security reasons", are demanding vehemently the upgrade of the tunnel,
others are reminding
that the Swiss have accepted the restriction in the constitution,
prohibiting exactly that and they point to the work in process of the new
Surly, Gotthard will provide more stuff for future discussions.
Referendum of Feb. 8th 2004:
On that day the Swiss rejected the "Avanti-Initiative" and in
fact accepted clearly, by 60% the policy
"goods transiting the alps have to be transported by train".
In a counter-proposal to a original Initiative the main points were:
- Private and public transport in urban areas should be provided with
federal money. Financial source would be a kind of trust, fed by
import-taxes (already applied) on imported petrol.
- Planning should be started for the second pipe through Gotthard for road traffic.
- Still missing parts in the Swiss Autobahn net should be finished
- Autobahn sectors that are regularly jammed should be provided with
- In a earlier referendum the Swiss have accepted a "stop on more
federal debts": the funding of the new projects would have
circumvented that restriction.
- The second road tunnel was seen as a rival to the (in Year 1998) accepted 30 Billion
CHF "NEAT Project" (new rail lines including two new rail tunnels
"Gotthard" 57 km, and "Loetschberg" 35km).
In 2008 ASTRA, the Swiss Federal office for roads, made it clear that
the Tunnel has to undergo a thorough maintenance and upgrade, by 2025 at
the latest. Therefore the Tunnel would have to closed for up to three
years. After long debates the voters finally accepted in 2016 by 57%
majority the construction of a new road Tunnel. Because of the restriction
in the constitution (see above), the two Tunnels will each only provide
one lane for traffic.
Time table: begin of construction 2020, construction period seven years.
2027 trough 2030 traffic through new Tunnel and closing and maintenance of
the old one.
According to plans, from 2030 on there would be two unidirectional Tunnels
between Goeschenen and Airolo, each with one lane usable.