Norway has begun work on its €1.8bn Rogfast tunnel, the longest and deepest undersea road tunnel ever built, despite the last minute withdrawal of the local authority, a main financial backer of the scheme.
Rogeland County Council was to have provided a $2bn guarantee (NOK16bn) but has withdrawn its backing because it fears the amount of risk involved and doubts whether the toll road will be able to compete with ferries.
The council guarantee was a prerequisite of the Storting, Norway’s parliament, when it approved the scheme last year. Now, the Storting and the municipality are embroiled in a war of words.
Terje Halleland, a member of parliament, described the council’s decision as "madness".
He told the Norwegian newspaper Haugesunds Avis: "The starting point must be that we build a tunnel that is more attractive to use than a ferry. If it becomes so expensive to use Rogfast that people choose other options, then we have adopted Rogfast on the wrong grounds."
But Helge Eidsnes, the regional director of the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, said the council’s decision would not stop the project going ahead. "We carry out our mission on behalf of the government, based on decisions in the Storting. That’s what we’re talking about."
The route of the tunnel
The tunnel will stretch for 27km at a depth of up to 392m below the sea, and cut the road travel time between the southwest coastal cities of Bergen and Stavanger from five hours to 40 minutes.
It is part of the "ferry-free Vestland" plan, however there is no guarantee that ferry services will be put out of business by the link. About 90% of the cost of the project will be met by imposing a toll for 20 years after the road is complete in 2025, but it is not clear whether that will allow the tunnel to compete successfully with ferries.
Future traffic levels on toll roads are notoriously hard to predict, and there have been disastrous overestimations in recent years, causing expensive toll-based road ventures to collapse. (See "further reading".)
The Norwegian government cannot lend a helping hand by closing the ferry routes because that would break EU competition rules, by which Norway is bound despite not being an EU member.
Image: A rendering of the tunnel and bridge (Norwegian Public Roads Administration)