Drivers and environmentalists go head to head in roads vote
An initiative calling for greater funding for roads may boil down to a straight fight between motorists tired of being stuck in ever longer traffic jams and environmentalists – with opinion polls suggesting the proposal will be turned down on Sunday.
Backers of the initiative are demanding that all of the CHF7.2 billion ($7.2 billion) collected each year in road tax and duties be spent on expanding and maintaining highways. They have had enough of CHF1.5 billion being “milked” towards other services. Hence the initiative’s “milk cow” tag.
Motorists collectively spend more than 21,500 hours stuck in congestion on Swiss roads each year – a figure that is constantly rising. The Federal Roads Office estimates that 490 kilometres of the 1,900km motorway and major roads network will be frequently congested by 2030.
Furthermore, the government is running out of money to finance roads. By 2019, there will be an annual CHF1.3 billion annual gap in funding unless something is done to remedy the situation.
Environmentalists, on the other hand, believe that the answer to increasing mobility problems lies in reducing traffic, not in expanding the road network to accommodate a doubling in the number of vehicles since 1980.
While Switzerland has committed to reducing its C02 emissions 20% from 1990 levels in the next four years, greenhouse gases from traffic in 2014 were 9% higher than in 1990.
Noise pollution is a problem too, with the Federal Office for the Environment calculating that 1.6 million people (20% of the population) are adversely affected during the day. This generates CHF1.8 million per year in mainly health costs, while the bill for constructing noise reduction measures on roads could end up reaching CHF4 billion.
The government has come out against the road finance initiative, instead proposing a new fund to cover the improvement of Switzerland’s highways. This fund, if accepted by parliament, would draw in motor vehicle tax revenues (worth CHF375 million a year) and boost the pot further with a hike on oil taxes.
Polls suggest "no"
Finance Minister Ueli Maurer insists this would be a better option than the road finance initiative, which he says would cause problems by skewing the national budget off course. Budgets for the army, education, agriculture and research would suffer as a result, he said.
Voters appear to have been listening more to the “no” campaigners than the authors of the initiative. The latest opinion poll conducted by gfs Bern on May 25 indicated that 49% of voters were likely to turn down the initiative with 40% voting in favour (11% don’t knows).
Fewer traffic jams at the expense of more pollution – which way would you vote?
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