Genevans Reject Lake Tunnel Amid Fears It Won’t Cure Congestion

Genevans voted against construction of a road tunnel under the lake that divides Switzerland’s second-largest city on the grounds it wouldn’t alleviate snarled traffic.

The initiative proposed by the Swiss People’s Party was rejected by 63.6 percent of voters, the cantonal government said on its website. The four-lane tunnel, costing as much as 1.2 billion Swiss francs ($1.3 billion), would have linked the city’s right bank, which houses United Nations agencies, with Geneva’s historic center on the left bank that is home to most private banks and hedge-fund managers, close to where Lake Geneva empties into the Rhone River.

“Congestion in Geneva has gotten worse over the past 20 years, but it’s nothing compared to that in cities such as London, Paris or New York,” Karim Bertoni, who helps manage $3.3 billion at de Pury Pictet Turrettini & Cie. SA in Geneva, said by phone today, declining to specify how he voted. “We are still relatively lucky here.”

Although Touring Club Suisse said the tunnel would have reduced traffic on lakeside boulevards by half, cantonal authorities cited studies showing a 50 percent increase volumes on key routes on either side of the crossing known in French as the Traversee de la rade. Geneva was 47th in a ranking of the 100 most congested cities in Europe and North America published in July by traffic-data company Inrix Inc. Milan suffered the worst gridlock with London placed sixth and New York 16th.

The Geneva Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services said via e-mailed statement it regretted the outcome. “The problem of mobility in Geneva therefore remains,” it said.

Car Switch

Geneva’s Grand Council voted by a margin of two to one against the tunnel on Feb. 13, led by opposition from the Socialists, Greens, Christian Democrats and Liberal Radicals. Opponents, calling themselves “No to the Harbor Crossing,” said the cost of the link could have almost doubled to 2 billion francs and would encourage commuters to switch to cars from trains and buses.

The participation rate was more than 55 percent, according to national television broadcaster RTS. That compares to a record turnout of 61.6 percent in February 2008 for referendums that led to a ban on smoking in public places and rejected proposals for free public transport.

“It’s a vote for reason and a vote for hope that the future doesn’t solely belong to the car,” Virginie Flamand, former president of the local Green Party, was quoted as saying by newspaper Tribune de Geneve. People in the city were keen on “having some fresh air,” she said.

Tax Rate

Most voters cast their ballots electronically or by mail. The canton of 476,000 people also took part in today’s national referendums on reducing the value-added tax rate in restaurants and changing the health insurance system to a single public provider. Both measures failed.

Geneva, which is swelled by about 80,000 people known as frontaliers commuting into the city each day from France, will have another 100,000 inhabitants by 2030, according to estimates by the Swiss People’s Party, known for its anti-immigration stance.

“The tunnel is a necessity today, and a condition for survival tomorrow,” the proposers of the vote said in a pamphlet distributed before the vote.

Submitted Plan

Geneva has been debating a cross-harbor link since architect Albert Trachsel proposed a tunnel in 1896. Early in the 20th century Le Corbusier, whose face adorns the Swiss 10-franc note, submitted a plan for a bridge. While the government considered six options in the 1960s, funding couldn’t be found. A referendum in 1996 rejected plans to build either a bridge or a tunnel.

The tunnel that would have connect connected Avenue de France on the right bank with Port-Noir, near the Geneva yacht club in the affluent suburb of Cologny, is separate from a proposal to build a crossing further down the lake to carry highway traffic by 2030.

“Every time I’m stuck having to cross this awful Mont Blanc bridge,” Jean-Claude Briguet, a 46-year-old taxi driver, said in an interview before the vote. “It’s a nightmare.”

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