Road construction

From a mule track to the most stunning panoramic road in the Tyrol

The time span between deciding to build the Timmelsjoch High Alpine Road and actually turning the first sod in the autumn of 1955, was a very short one. The process that led to the decision, however, was an exceptionally long and arduous one. The first plans were drawn up as far back as the 19th century. In 1897, the Tyrolean Landtag (regional assembly) established a construction agenda which comprised the building of several “rival roads”. These included a road over the Timmelsjoch. The First World War, however, quashed these plans. Instead, the Timmelsjoch became a state border. At the beginning of the 1950s, the Ötztal-born tourism pioneer, Angelus Scheiber, hatched a plan to construct a road over the Timmelsjoch. Hermann Egger, a Member of State Government, and Eduard Wallnöfer, also a Member of State Government and later to become State Governor, proved to be important allies in his quest. The north-south link would enable people “to ski at midday on the glaciers of the Ötztal valley then relax in the afternoon under the shade of the palm trees in Meran”. On 30th October 1955, the first sod was turned for the monumental project, a highlight in the history of road construction in the Tyrol. The specially created company Timmelsjoch Hochalpenstrassen AG, whose shareholders include the Republic of Austria, the Province of Tyrol as well as 25 local councils from the Tyrolean Oberland, later served as a role model for the construction of the Felbertauern road and the Brenner motorway.

The construction of the Timmelsjoch High Alpine Road is regarded as a turning point in the transition from manual to mechanised road construction. Although the rugged terrain did not always allow it, the Unimogs, excavators and lorries provided invaluable services. Four bulldozers devoured their way towards the Joch, covering 150 metres every day – the equivalent labour of 130 men. The high Alpine environment imposed tremendous demands on the workers. Unimaginable in this day and age, the men completed the foundations and road surface using pickaxes, spades and wheelbarrows. The hard core was painstakingly evened out by hand, stone for stone, but despite the difficult, adverse condition, the men enjoyed working on the Timmelsjoch. The food and drink supplied left nothing to be desired and payment was above average.

Due to the high altitude, work was only possible between the months of May and November. But even during the summer, the mountains occasionally showed their harsh side with severe spells of wintery weather. Nonetheless, the High Alpine Road was completed as planned within four years – of which only 17 months were actually spent on its construction. On 17th July 1959, the road up to the Joch was ceremoniously opened. However, it was another nine years before the long-awaited link with South Tyrol was opened to traffic despite there being a disused military road on the steep southern ramp. Benito Mussolini had had it built in the 1930s in case of an invasion in the Tyrol. In view of the Hitler-Mussolini agreement, work was stopped on it in 1939 – allegedly on the day the two dictators met on the Brenner Pass. On 15th September 1968, the pioneer’s dream was at long last fulfilled and the new north-south link was finally opened for through traffic. This geographical merger set a milestone for both tourism and the economy in the Passeiertal and Ötztal valleys.