Does the change in purpose of a hard shoulder to a highway mean there will be a considerable expansion of or operational change to the federal road in question? The Swiss Federal Administrative Court is referring this question back to the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications for reassessment.
The Federal Roads Office (FEDRO) is planning a permanent change in purpose of the hard shoulder between Liestal and the Augst junction in the direction of Zurich measuring 700 metres as well as between the Augst junction and Rheinfelden West in both directions, measuring 1'300 metres each way. This measure aims is declared to eliminate capacity bottlenecks in the entry and exit lanes and thereby increase the overall capacity.
Objection of the VCS
The Verkehrs-Club der Schweiz (VCS) raised within the procedure to the approval of plans an objection and explained to the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) that this would mean a substantial expansion or operational change to the section of the federal road in question. The effects on the secondary road network and on the environment in particular, had not been sufficiently clarified. No environmental impact assessment (EIA) had been conducted either, which would have been compulsory in the case of such expansions.
DETEC approved the project
The DETEC approved the FEDRO’s project and did not address the objection of the VCS. According to the DETEC, the change in purpose of the hard shoulder would not mean a significant expansion or a change in the type of operation at all, especially since only an increase in traffic of two to three per cent was to be expected. Consequently, it stated that the VCS was not entitled to raise an objection to this because the association’s right of appeal only existed in the case of projects which are subject to an environmental impact assessment.
The VCS filed an appeal against this decision with the Swiss Federal Administrative Court (FAC). The association is requesting that the decision be revoked and the matter be referred back to the DETEC for an EIA.
FAC refers the case back to the DETEC
In accordance with the FAC’s judgment, the lower court would have had to address the objection of the VCS. In its considerations, the FAC does not rule out the possibility that this project might constitute a substantial operational change in purpose. Likewise the question of possible traffic relocations had only been rudimentarily clarified, meaning changes to environmental pollution could not be excluded in this respect. Therefore the performance of an EIA appears necessary. The court approves of the appeal and refers the case back to the DETEC for examination of its contents.
This judgment may be appealed to the Federal Supreme Court.
Judgment & Presse release