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Praguescape: Too many tunnels?

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The magistrála tunnel would help reconnect Wenceslas Square to the area by the National Museum. (ČTK): The magistrála tunnel would help reconnect Wenceslas Square to the area by the National Museum. (ČTK)The magistrála tunnel would help reconnect Wenceslas Square. (ČTK)

Tunnels are trendy in Prague these days. A new railway corridor now passes under Vítkov Hill, allowing greater volumes of passenger trains to pass in and out of the Main Train Statin. At Letná in Prague 7, the Blanka tunnel, which is still under construction, promises to speed up the flow of traffic, allowing more efficient transit through the city. And the long-planned tunnel above Wenceslas Square – created by submerging a section the magistrála motorway underground and moving it behind the National Museum – promises to reduce noise levels and reconnect parts of historical Prague 1 and 2.

But can tunnels really be a panacea for all the city’s traffic problems? In the case of the magistrála the tunnel seems the most benign and the plan has not been attracting as much criticism as some of the other tunnel projects. That could be partly because the magistrála is so bad to begin with that any change will seem like an improvement.

Since its completion in 1978, the magistrála has brought volumes upon volumes of transit traffic into Prague’s historical downtown, and, along with it, exhaust fumes, daily traffic jams and noise.

It severed the National Museum from Wenceslas Square, obliterated the Main Train Station’s original front entrance and, perhaps worst of all, cut off the neighbourhoods of Vinohrady and Žižkov from the city centre.

City Hall has been promising to reduce the impact of the magistrála since 1989.

Last week City Hall showed the latest development of the planned project. As computer-generated images show, drivers travelling from the Žižkov, Prague 3, in the direction of the Main Train Station would be able to choose whether they want to get on the city’s ringroad (another ongoing project) or enter a tunnel that would lead from behind the State Opera to Legerova Street or further – the exact location of the tunnel entrances has not been decided yet.

While this will certainly benefit Wenceslas Square, it will not do much for Žižkov and for the I.P. Pavlova area, at either end of the tunnel.

One could even argue that those to benefit most from the tunnel will be the drivers – no more traffic lights to slow them down near the National Museum section of the motorway.

Perhaps it’s too early to be cynical, though. And City Hall is promising to reduce the number of cars that use the magistrála each day from 85,000 to 50,000.

The construction of the CZK 10 billion project is scheduled to begin in 2011. The tunnel should take three years to complete.

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