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When controlling traffic growth costs lives

ANALYSIS

Environmentalists have done much to stunt efforts to increase the capacity of the road tunnels under the Alps. Their aims are understandable. They believe more tunnel capacity and accompanying improvements in journey times will generate extra traffic, increasing pollution level and road accidents in the surrounding areas.

This may be true. But playing the green card to stop outdated single bore tunnels like the Tauern and Mont Blanc tunnels from getting parallel bores looks like a tactic that has had its day.

The strength of the environmentalists' arguments have indirectly helped to create the situation which has allowed at least 46 people to die in tunnel fires in the last three months (see News).

Their opposition has played a significant part in dissuading the French and the Austrians from increasing the capacities of the Mont Blanc and Tauern tunnels. If these tunnels had parallel bores connected with cross passages, the death tolls would have been lower.

As single bore structures, the 6.4km and 11.6km long Tauern and Mont Blanc tunnels are extremely dangerous places to be when a fire breaks out. Exits can be kilometres away and motorists and their passengers face a very long walk or run to safety through thick black smoke and extreme temperatures.

Even the environmentalists must now be questioning their opposition to parallel bores at Mont Blanc and Tauern. Both tunnels will be closed for some time. Meanwhile traffic is being diverted away from them, spreading congestion and pollution to other routes. It could be argued that more should be done to boost rail transport, but this is unlikely to remove the urgent need for safer, bigger capacity road tunnels.

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