December 6, 2005

Traffic adds challenge to Turin Games

By Svetlana Kovalyova

SESTRIERE, Italy (Reuters) - If you dream about watching
Olympic skiers race down the slopes in this Alpine resort and
also want to see figure skaters swirl across the ice in Turin,
you face a tough challenge.

On paper, the distance of some 100 km between the two
venues for the 2006 Winter Olympics seems a short haul.

Bad weather, heavy traffic and security checks, however,
might force you to spend long hours on the road linking Turin's
ice rinks and the mountains where all snow-based events will be

"We have beautiful mountain valleys but they are narrow,"
said Paolo Balistreri, transport and logistics director at
TOROC, the organizing committee for the Turin Games. "That
imposes natural limits on the transport."

To avoid traffic jams, most private cars will be banned
from the mountain area hosting Alpine and cross-country skiing,
biathlon, bobsleigh, skeleton, luge, freestyle, ski-jumping,
snowboard and Nordic combined events.

People who live or work in the area or stay at local hotels
will be issued special permits for the February 8-27 period,
allowing them to use their cars. The Games run from February 10
to 26.

Other spectators traveling to the Alps by car will have to
drop them at one of four car parks offering some 5,800 spaces
and use round-the-clock, free bus shuttles.

Games organizers, who plan to sell one million tickets, are
encouraging spectators to take trains to save time and money.
They said additional trains would run to and from the mountains
every 30 minutes from early morning until night.


"It will be almost like a city subway. The trains will be
fast, efficient and low-cost," Balistreri said. "Our target is
to have 50 percent of spectators arriving by train."

Commuters on a local train taking them from the nearby
mountains to work and study in Turin smile in disbelief at such
promises, however. They are used to trains running up to an
hour late.

The organizers will urge spectators to arrive at venues
three hours in advance to smooth access. That will mean that if
you have a ticket for a luge competition in the mountain
village of Cesana Pariol at four p.m., you have to set off from
Turin at 10.30 a.m.

Heavy snow, a fallen tree, an avalanche or a car accident
will extend your trip. But the organizers and local authorities
say they will be able to deal with a natural calamity, while
police and emergency services will intervene if there is a
security threat.

Residents in Sestriere, which will host Alpine skiing
competitions and an Olympic village for 1,700 people as well as
other numerous guests, are split over whether to consider the
Games a blessing or a curse.

"It is going to be a disaster with all these people
invading our Sestriere. I am going away for the Games," said a
woman in her 60s who declined to be named as a bus crawled up
the mountain road to the village.

Pierluigi Lantelme, in charge of transport and public works
at the local council, brushed aside the worries, saying the
estimated 20,000 visitors a day during the Games would not be
that different from the usual tourist inflow during the skiing


Moreover, the ban on non-resident private cars and stricter
traffic regulations would mean less chaos on the roads and
fresher air during the Games, while investments in roads and
hotels would bear long-term fruit, he said.

"Many people here are skeptical about the Olympics. They
have not yet understood the real value of the event, its
advantages which will come in the future," he said.

In Turin, which will host most ice-based competitions as
well as awards ceremonies and the main Olympic village for
2,500 people, three villages for journalists and thousands of
tourists, there will be no car ban.

"Turin will remain an open city," said TOROC's Balistreri.

Visitors are free to try their luck in finding car parks in
the city, struggling with the likely traffic jams as some 60 km
of lanes will be reserved for accredited Olympic transport.

The organizers will encourage visitors to leave their cars
at 11 car parks just outside the city and switch to public
transport which will be reinforced with new lines and new
buses, some running around the clock.

High schools will be closed in the city and other Olympic
areas to give teenagers a chance to take part in volunteer work
for the Games, but also to free up about 100 school buses which
will be added to the Olympic fleet.

Some Turin dwellers, especially environmentalists, fear the
city will choke on exhaust fumes and traffic will be paralyzed.

"The city's normal life will be disrupted by the Olympics,"
said Eva Biginelli, in charge of transport issues for the
Piedmont and Valle d'Aosta regions at environment group
Legambiente. "It is going to be a disaster for urban traffic."

Others, such as a taxi driver called Giuseppe, remain calm.
"Everything is going to be alright. We'll just have to work
harder," he said.