Voters decide against extra road funding

Switzerland's road network is creaking under the weight of more vehicles Keystone

An initiative calling for extra funding for Switzerland’s road network has been rejected at the polls. Voters in a majority of cantons decided against the idea on Sunday, which killed off the proposal.

This content was published on June 5, 2016 - 15:45

Final results show the initiative was rejected by nearly 70% of voters.

Finance Minister Ueli Maurer said he was pleased that he was not faced with an enforced change to the overall federal budget. He pointed out that alternative road financing measures were currently being debated in parliament.

"We can now get on with dealing with the problems [of road financing shortfalls] in other ways [than the initiative envisioned]," he said.

Andreas Burgener, director of the Auto Switzerland lobby group for car importers, told Swiss public television, SRF, he was disappointed with the lack of public support for the initiative.

“Road taxes are on the increase daily. We wanted to put a stop to this, but we could not achieve this,” he said.

Results of June 5 votes

Basic income initiative:
23.1% yes 76.9.% no

Asylum reform:
66.8% yes 33.2% no

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis:
62.4% yes 37.6% no

Public service companies:
32.4% yes 67.6.% no

Road traffic funding:
29.2% yes 70.8% no

Turnout: 46.4%

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The motoring organisation Touring Club Switzerland (TCS) said the rejection also represented support for the government's alternative plan to improve road financing. "TCS now expects parliament to resolve this issue quickly," it said in a statement. This viewpoint was echoed by the Swiss Builders Association.

Claude Longchamp, director of the gfs Bern research and polling institute, said that people had not voted not just "as motorists, but as citizens".

Backers of the initiative had demanded 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 had wanted the CHF1.5 billion that is annually “milked” off to other services to be dedicated to road maintenance and extension.

The vote had pitted motorists, tired of being stuck in ever longer traffic jams, against environmentalists who are baulking at more vehicles being on the roads.

The government had 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.

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 have suffered if the initiative had succeeded, he had earlier warned.

Fewer traffic jams at the expense of more pollution – which way would you have voted?

Roads and traffic

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.

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