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The Most Ambitious Tunnels Belong to Norway

Posted March 30, 2017 4:27 PM by HUSH

Scandinavia tends to have two things: happy people and healthy infrastructure. Speaking to the former, in the 2017 World Happiness Report, the four Scandinavian countries all landed in the top 5.

Speaking to the latter, consider the next-gen trash-burning power plant going up in Copenhagen I wrote about a few weeks ago. A 2017 survey found that four Scandinavian cities are on the list of the 21 cities with the best infrastructure. Norway is already home to the world’s longest road tunnel, and now consider two of Norway’s upcoming tunnel projects, both of which will be world firsts.

Up first for our scrutiny is the Stad Ship Tunnel, which is notable as it will be the first tunnel specifically designed for ships. Automotive transportation between the north and south of the country can be problematic due to rough terrain, inadequate roads in rural and remote areas, and immense snowfall during winter. Therefore, Norway remains heavily reliant on ferries to transport goods, people, and cars between parts of the country and the many, many islands off the coastline.

The Stadlandet is the only unprotected coastal landmass of Norway and is known for harsh weather. Not coincidentally, the Norwegian Sea off the Stadlandet is also particularly rough, experiencing more than 100 storm days per year, and regularly delaying ferries and shipping. Since the 1870s, Norwegians have debated the feasibility and economics of building a tunnel through the narrowest part of Stadlandet. Passage times will likely be unchanged, but the transit will be safer and more economical without the harsh weather and delays.

On the map, the red route represents the main traffic route for ships navigating around Stadlandet, and the white represents the route taken by larger vessels to avoid shallows. The green route is the new proposed route, with yellow demarcating the location of the Stad Ship Tunnel.

Pending the May 2017 conclusion of a study by the Department of Transport, construction on the Stad Ship Tunnel is expected to begin in 2019. Norway has already budgeted about half of the $265 million needed to excavate the 1.7-km-long tunnel, which is expected to be 37 m high and 26.5 m wide, with 12 m below water to accommodate ship drafts. It is expected that the tunnel could see up to 120 ships per day, with traffic direction alternating every hour.

As ambitious as the Stad Ship Tunnel might be, it’s got nothing on the semi-submerged floating tunnels Norway hopes to build.

Norway’s coastline is serrated by many, many fjords. If they were excluded from the tally, Norway’s coastline would be a mere 1,600 miles, but, with them, Norway’s coastline balloons to 18,000 miles. A 680-mile trip from Kristiansand to Trondheim takes 21 hours by car. But if there was a way to easily cross fjords, the trip could be halved.

The solution is, apparently, a submerged floating tunnel, also known as an Archimedes bridge. The idea is fairly simple: build a long enclosed tunnel that will have roughly the same density as the ambient water. Then, either anchor the tunnel to the seabed (if the tunnel is buoyant) or suspend it from pontoons (if the tunnel sinks) so the tunnel sits about 100-feet below the water’s surface. Ships can still bypass and the tunnel is sheltered from rough seas and weather, while drivers hardly notice that their route is underwater.

While it seems strange at first, it’s almost stranger that something like this hasn’t been attempted before. The project would ultimately borrow from infrastructure and industries that already exist. The current great unknowns of this project are if the Norwegian seabeds could handle the force of a tether, and how much deflection could be expected on the tunnel from waves and currents. Engineers would also have to devise a solution to alert submarines, however rarely they might occur.

Of course, the price tag for something like this is hefty: at $25 billion, it costs more than 90 times the amount of the Stad Ship Tunnel. And once it gets through technical and government reviews, it needs to be passed by politicians that are also considering traditional bridges and tunnels.

But sometimes, somebody needs to take a chance on new ideas. And when it comes to infrastructure, that somebody is frequently Norway.


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Re: The Most Ambitious Tunnels Belong to Norway

03/31/2017 11:24 AM

It's amazing what you can do with big buckets of North Sea Oil money.

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Re: The Most Ambitious Tunnels Belong to Norway

03/31/2017 3:59 PM

And the People's money. This is an interesting read from a couple of years back.

But, if everyone pays the taxes and they are happy with their situation, then power to them. The good part about flat rate taxes, is that everyone has (by percentage basis) 'skin in the game' and therefore have (in theory) a vested interest in how the money gets spent.

I believe culture plays a large role in how various countries implement their tax codes. What works well in one part of the world, may not work very well elsewhere.

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Re: The Most Ambitious Tunnels Belong to Norway

03/31/2017 4:14 PM

It only works if they do this by agreement, consent, and accountability for every dime!

It does not work in a welfare state where half the people sit on their fat behinds collecting welfare, and the other half slave themselves into a crypt.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just build a better one.
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