June 27, 2012 / 3:13 PM / 6 years ago

Switzerland to build second Gotthard road tunnel

ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss government said on Wednesday it had decided to build a second road tunnel through the Gotthard mountain range in central Switzerland as it unveiled one of the country’s largest road infrastructure projects in years.

The project will cost the Swiss federation 2.8 billion Swiss francs ($2.91 billion), the government told a news conference.

The existing tunnel, between the Swiss Cantons of Uri and Ticino, is in urgent need of maintenance work and the government said it had decided to build a second tunnel so that the Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino would not be cut off from the rest of the country.

The second tunnel, which is due to open by 2027 at the earliest, will significantly increase road safety since it will make it possible to split the two lanes of traffic - that currently go in different directions - between the two tunnels.

The Gotthard, the main north-south axis through the Swiss Alps, is used by more than 5 million people and 930,000 trucks each year.

First opened in September 1980 after more than ten years of planning and construction, it is ten miles long.

In October 2001, a head on collision in the tunnel between two trucks caused a massive fire, killing eleven and injuring many others. ($1 = 0.9630 Swiss francs)

Reporting by Andrew Thompson; Editing by Andrew Osborn

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