Alpine region vexed by traffic sees light at end of tunnel

Construction of the Brenner Base Tunnel railway-link is intended to relieve traffic congestion. [Monika Bargmann/Flickr]

The Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy is suffering under the weight of congestion, as more and more heavy traffic rolls into the Alpine valley. After the jubilation at the COP21 summit in Paris, the Tirol region hopes that traffic will be limited. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The latest figures show that transit traffic through the Brenner Pass has significantly increased. In November, 10,000 more heavy vehicles used the A12 motorway than in the same month last year. This means that at least 1.9 million HGVs and other heavy vehicles used the Brenner Pass, amounting to an increase of 3.5%.

The situation appears to have been exacerbated by a reduction in tolls. Although this decision was met with opposition in Austria, Vienna was obliged to do it under European law.

Road charging falls under the so-called Eurovignette Directive, which stipulates that toll revenues should not exceed the cost of the infrastructure. Reducing the toll was, essentially, out of the Austrian transport ministry’s hands. This rationale was not enough for the Transitforum NGO, which sees the traffic problem and toll reduction as a “brutal attack” on the area.

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After a traffic prohibition for certain vehicles was overturned by the European Court of Justice at the behest of the European Commission in December 2011, the Tirol government is now working on new legislation. By summer of next year at the earliest, a sectorial traffic ban on HGVs that carry certain goods may come into force. Around 200,000 HGVs are likely to be taken off the roads as a result of the planned law.

If no measures are implemented, then it is possible that 2 million vehicles could use the Brenner in the coming year. The requirements of the transit agreement mean that restrictions should be easier to implement.

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Short-term hopes now rest with Andrä Rupprechter, the Federal Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, who hails from Tirol and attended the COP21 summit and is well-placed to implement new measures. A longer-term solution may prove to be the Brenner Base railway tunnel. The new connection is intended to relieve traffic congestion, although it is only slated to open in 2025.

The tunnel will make up a section of the 2,200 km long Berlin-Palermo axis, a part of the EU-promoted Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T). The 55 km long tunnel will, when opened, be the second-longest railway tunnel in the world. Until then, the Alpine communities that are plagued by heavy traffic, and the pollution that comes with it, will have to suffer a while longer.

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