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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.

13. Century:
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.

18. Century:
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 Andermatt. The 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 importance.

19. Century:
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.

The Autobahn:
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 750 m.
A memorial on the main road remembers the 19 workers who lost their lives during 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 again by 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.

The future:
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 NEAT-line.

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 quickly.
- Autobahn sectors that are regularly jammed should be provided with additional lanes.

- 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.

Some links:


Arguments for a upgrade and elimination of two-way traffic (in German)

Der Gotthard: Hans Peter Nething, Ott Verlag Thun (5.Auflage 1995)


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