On 29 September 2021, work began on the tunnel with a symbolic blast after being delayed since last spring because of the pandemic, reported RTS.
The Gotthard road tunnel, which passes through the Alps between Göschenen (UR) et Airolo (TI), is one the most important and congested in Europe.
The decision to build a second tunnel running alongside the current one has been controversial and was put to a referendum in February 2016. Many of the locals fear an increase in traffic, and many voters in the far away cantons of Vaud and Geneva were not keen to see federal money spent on it.
The second 16.9 km tunnel, which requires the removal of 7.4 million tonnes of rock, is expected to cost CHF 2.14 billion and open in 2029.
The tunnel has been billed as a safety enhancement rather than a way to reduce congestion. When fully operational, each of the two tunnels will contain a single lane only – one will contain a single lane heading south and the other a single lane heading north. However, it is not difficult to imagine two lanes in each tunnel, a suggestion typically only whispered.
When the second tube is completed, the existing one will be closed for maintenance. Opened in 1980, the original tunnel will remain closed for three years while it is refurbished.
Jürg Röthlisberger, the head of the Federal Roads Office (FEDRO), spoke of the contribution of the tunnel to national cohesion. The tunnel links the German-speaking canton of Uri to Italian-speaking Ticino. At the opening ceremony, two children, one from each side of the tunnel, exchanged plaques that will be reunited in 2026 when tunnel diggers from each side meet in the middle.