After the car brought independent travel to the masses, the government of Switzerland considered and, in 1969, approved a tunnel that would enable year-round travel through the Gotthard mountain range and on to Italy. At the time, the tunnel would be longer than any other road tunnel in existence, at 10.2 miles, although that is no longer the case: it now lies in third place, behind the Lærdal Tunnel in Norway and the Zhongnanshan Tunnel in China.
The Gotthard, or St. Gotthard, road tunnel opened on September 5, 1980. It carries around 17,000 vehicles per day along Switzerland’s A2 motorway, through a single bore, with one lane traveling in each direction, at a speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph).
Trucks are forced to keep 150 meters (490 feet) apart within the tunnel and are also limited by number, to three entering the tunnel per minute. Swiss police also require every truck that approaches from the north side to stop at the purpose-built HGV Center in Erstfeld (canton of Uri), where they are subject to random vehicle, cargo and driver inspections.
In 2012 the Swiss government announced that, as part of the nation’s most ambitious infrastructure project in years, it had decided to build a second road tunnel through the St. Gotthard mountains. When it opens in 2027, the second bore will allow traffic to be split by direction, increasing safety as well as capacity in the frequently congested tunnel.
To learn about other interesting civil engineering projects, visit the People and Projects section of the ASCE website.