Switzerland’s Gotthard comes out on top in the trans-Alp battle of the mega tunnels between the Channel and northern Italy – but there are other options too.
Also, deadly pile up after Belgian police shoot at smugglers on the A16 at Dunkirk. Gumballers rock up at the interesting Prague Hilton. Visiting drivers persistently ignore road closed signs in Iceland.
WHICH IS WORSE: MONT BLANC OR GOTTHARD?
Gotthard is cheaper and quicker but queues are more frequent if not as long.
On the 1000 kilometer journey between Calais and Milan, for instance, drivers have essentially two options to cross the Alps: the Mont Blanc Tunnel between France and Italy; or the Gotthard Tunnel in south central Switzerland.
The quickest way is actually through Gotthard – 1092km versus 1128km – but there is more to this than just mileage.
At busy times especially, a big consideration is delays: both are bottlenecks where two lanes funnel into one for the tunnel section. The queues at Mont Blanc are compounded by peage toll booths.
A one-way crossing of Mont Blanc comes in at €43.50 for a car (or €54.30 return within seven days).
Gotthard is free but to use Swiss motorways drivers need a vignette windscreen sticker which costs €40 – though that does last for the rest of the calendar year and the following January.
Meanwhile the road toll to reach Mont Blanc is €79.40 according to Autoroutes.fr compared to a relatively modest €50.60 to Gotthard via Strasbourg (or positively bargain €32 on the dual carriageway past Nancy).
So Gotthard wins hands down on costs, but which is more prone to delays?
Here the balance shifts back in the other direction. According to the Mont Blanc’s ‘jam calendar’ for spring 2016 – 23 March to 6 June – there are only four ‘black days’ heading from France to Italy, when traffic is at its worst, and only one in the other direction.
During the same period at Gotthard there are twelve black days (there is no specific Gotthard jam calendar but the busiest days in Switzerland always manifest as massive queues there).
You will have to take our word for it – Mont Blanc’s jam calendar is only published quarterly – but that same pattern is repeated through the rest of the year.
In terms of length of delay then Gotthard wins by a hair’s breadth. A 90 minute wait is typical on a bad day, but drivers often wait three hours at Mont Blanc.
There are other ways through the Alps and, anecdotally, all are less well trod than their headline counterparts, though of course they are not immune to queues.
The A43 Frejus Tunnel Lyon-Turin costs the same as Mont Blanc but may be a bit out of the way for some (and the one-way road toll from Calais is €75.30).
The Great Saint Bernard Tunnel in Switzerland, almost parallel to Mont Blanc, costs €29.30 (or €46.90 return with 30 days) and does not need the vignette.
East of Gotthard is the A13 San Bernardino Tunnel, the recommended detour when delays are more than one hour.
Update Sunday 8 May: queues today confirm and confound what we have been saying. The delay at Mont Blanc did indeed peak at three hours, this evening, before subsiding to 60 minutes at 23:00CET… It was much busier than usual at Gotthard however with a 14km queue which took 2h40 to drive through late afternoon, and was still 60 minutes at 00:40 on Monday morning. A13 San Bernardino topped out at 1h50. Meanwhile, queues at the Frejus and Great Saint Bernard tunnels peaked at 1h50 and 55 minutes respectively.
roundup: FRANCE. Extraordinary scene on the A16 at Dunkirk first thing as Belgian police in hot pursuit of a UK-registered Audi fired twelve shots. The car lost control at 200kmh according to La Voix du Nord with two of the occupants – allegedly Iraqi smugglers – seriously injured. See pictures. There were also other injuries in the ensuing pileup involving six vehicles and a truck. Police has apparently been following the car since Bruges. A Dutch motorcyclist was reported killed after crashing into the back of the Dunkirk-bound queue. The westbound carriageway reopened mid-morning. DFDS had said delayed passengers would be accepted on the next available service without amendment fees, subject to availability. The eastbound carriageway has reopened. ICELAND. Roads authorities are at a loss on what to do about foreign drivers persistently ignoring road closed signs. Three tourist cars got stuck on the road to the picturesque Dettifoss waterfall this week alone reports Iceland Magazine despite a closed barrier (partially) across the road. A spokesman for the Icelandic Road and Coastal Authority said, ‘It seems to make no difference what kind of signs we put up, people still ignore them and drive around them if need be’. The climate in Iceland is not to be messed with – even in the spring – as this video of a motor home being blow over the top of a barrier this week proves. All info on Iceland roads is available in English, updated in real time at Road.is.