Austrian environmentalists are in the middle of a three-day blockade of key motorways. They're protesting against increased truck traffic they say is polluting the Alpine countryside.
1.8 million trucks cross the Alps through Austria each year.
Environmental activists continued their protest action on Tuesday against what they call Austria's "traffic avalanche," blocking several highways for up to five hours at a time. They plan to expand the action on Wednesday, blocking motorways in the Austrian provinces of Tyrol, Salzburg, Carinthia and Lower Austria for 12 hours.
Turnout so far has been low but good-natured, with families taking advantage of the blockade to ride their bicycles along roads normally choked with heavy transport trucks. In Lower Austria, groups of protesters picknicked while listening to live music, including the song "Highway to Hell."
A party atmosphere prevails at sites where blockades have been mounted.
Traffic is being diverted along alternate routes, and so far, Austrian police say they've managed to avoid large traffic jams.
Austrian politicians have expressed understanding for the three-day blockade. The country's transport minister, Hubert Gorbach, said the protests are sending an important signal to the EU in Brussels "The people who live here and who are plagued by the traffic have made the problem visible to the EU," he said.
But the protest action also met with criticism because of its timing. The week leading up to Easter typically means extra traffic on the roads as people go on holiday. The head of the economic association of Tyrol, Jürgen Bodenseer, said the blockades were only damaging Tyrol's tourism industry.
Major transit zone
Austria is a major transit zone with four mountain passes linking northern and southern Europe. In addition to the millions of cars, approximately 1.8 million transport trucks roll across its transit motorways each year. The pollution emissions along these routes that cut through the country's beautiful Alpine landscape regularly exceed the permissible level.
The transit routes are likely to become even more important when the EU expands to include eastern neighbors Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia next month. Experts warn that the amount of traffic on Austrian motorways could double in the next year.
Austria is dissatisfied with a compromise ruling adopted by EU ministers in Brussels last year that reduces the restrictions on heavy goods traffic that Austria had negotiated when it joined the EU in 1995. To encourage the use of more environmentally-friendly vehicles, the EU granted cleaner trucks unrestricted access. Austria says the compromise allows 80 percent of vehicles in transit to cross through the country freely without being subject to any quotas.