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Austrian tunnel vision

Model of the ventilation shaft of the planned Feldkirch urban tunnel. © CIPRA International

The Austrian town Feldkirch wants to build a by-pass and thus create a connection between the Austrian and Swiss motorway systems. Liechtenstein fears it will be overrun by traffic. Is this a case for the Alpine Convention?
The small town of Feldkirch in the Vorarlberg region has a traffic problem. Up to 50,000 vehicles a day drive through its centre. The pollutant load there is the third-highest throughout Austria. This is the cause of above all the lorries that pass through the town on their way to Liechtenstein or Switzerland. The majority of the 8,300 employees in the region also shuttle by car to neighbouring countries. For some 30 years now the town of Feldkirch has been planning a tunnel to connect the Austrian motorway E60 with the national border. The project has been cancelled, renamed or adapted several times, most recently in 2005 when a study showed that an underground by-pass would create more traffic jam in Liechtenstein.

Petition in Liechtenstein against the project
At present the project, estimated to cost around 226 million euros, is undergoing an environmental compatibility assessment. Liechtenstein does not however have the right to play a broad part in this procedure. An alliance of community representatives and environmental organisations, supported by the CIPRA Youth Parliament, has now started a petition. It is demanding that the Liechtenstein government carries out an investigation about the effects of the tunnel on this small state. According to estimates, traffic through the tunnel will increase by half at the largest border crossing. Liechtenstein municipalities along the motorway to Switzerland face traffic jams. Thereby studies and concrete plans for a more economical and more environmentally-friendly project exist: the development of the rapid-transit railway between Liechtenstein, Austria and Switzerland. It would not only reduce traffic for the inhabitants of Feldkirch, but also for people throughout the region.

Does Austria harm the Alpine Convention?
The petition also demands that the government of Liechtenstein should clarify whether Austria harms the traffic protocol of the Alpine Convention with this project, as the tunnel would remove more than a dozen road crossings and establish a direct connection between the Austrian Rhine Valley motorway and the Swiss A13 motorway. This would create an almost unbroken motorway link between Munich and Milan, which would be shorter and thus more attractive for heavy goods traffic than the route over the Brenner Pass. The Alpine Convention however forbids any new building of such high-capacity roads through the Alps. This international convention also provides that states have the right to bring in themselves in projects of other states if they will be affected by these results. It might then be difficult for Feldkirch to implement the project against its neighbour's will.
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