The Scandinavian peninsula’s great leap into the future

Bridges, highways and tunnels: Sweden and Norway preparing for major infrastructure works

Beautiful and extended Norway embraces the “road revolution”. The Nordic country at the northern tip of Europe is undertaking the biggest ever infrastructure project in its modern history in order to make the farthest corners of country fully reachable by car, with seamless connections and acceptable travel times. The entire Scandinavian region is undergoing a “building bonanza” to improve road network and reduce traffic and congestion.

Norway aims to connect its out-of-the-way regions with a modern and futuristic road linking the two opposite sides: an improved highway will link the southern city of Kristiansand up to Trondheim in the north pole.

The total travel time between the two cities is today around 21 hours, and drivers need to use seven different ferry connections. A €33 billion bill for the E39 highway project has been approved by the parliament: it will stretch for 1,100 kilometers (683 miles).

The rugged west coast of Norway, home to thousands, is now a nightmare to travel by car. Driving south to north takes a long time. To add insult to injury, harsh weather conditions make it an unpredictable route: often roads are closed and ferries are forced to cancel their departure due to snow, heavy winds or high waves. Norway has a peculiar geography: the famous fjords make for a zig-zagging coastline. So cars need to board ferries to cross the dozens long narrow sea inlets, otherwise impossible do drive through. But the continuous hop-on and hop-off from boats makes for a lot of hurdles.

Norway dreamed of a seamless road traversing the country for decades. Now it is becoming a reality: a continuous E39 highway that is accessible 24/7, with fixed links between islands and the mainland, will make the western coast more accessible for people who inhabit the coast. About one third of Norway’s total population of 5.3 million people live in the western region. The local economy will benefit from a boost to tourism and freight. Right now, 60% of Norway’s export goods is produced on the west coast, so an efficient and predictable transport system will be a great benefit for national economy.

Connecting cities along the west coast will also develop new living patterns: the new road will shorten travel times to reach hospitals, jobs and schools. The E39 continues to Denmark, and hence will connect Norway more rapidly with the rest of Europe. The long-term goal for the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, the contractor for the project, sees the E39 as an improved and continuous Coastal Highway Route to be completed within the year 2050.

The route will run through six counties, and the cities of Stavanger, Bergen, Ålesund and Molde. The main improvement features eliminating all the ferry links: this will reduce the travel time by half and make the journey almost 50 kilometres (31 miles) shorter. The reduction in travel time will be obtained by replacing ferries with bridges and tunnels, in addition to upgrading a number of road sections on land. The tunnels will be the most advanced infrastructures ever for this kind of thing: they will not cross below the seabed, like the Channel Tunnel between UK and France, but will be a free-standing Floating Tunnel Bridge. State of the art floating tunnels, located several meters under the sea level, will be suspended by massive buoys. This solution requires unprecedented technology and engineering skills.

Bridge in Norway

Beyond fjord crossings: Norway’s major projects

The E39 tunnel highway connecting north and south is not the only major road project for the country. There is also an east-west infrastructure plan to connect the Sotra Archipelago. Located west of Bergen, Sotra is the name of twin islands (Sotra itself and Litlesotra) which are part of a large archipelago stretching from Fedje southwards along the coast of Norway. Some 29,000 people live on the two islands of Sotra. Covering a 179 square kilometers (69 square mile) area and accounting for 0.7% of the country’s population, Sotra relies on just one bridge connecting the islands to the mainland. The Sotra Connection is an €850 million public–private partnership (PPP) scheme. The project includes a 1 km-long (0.62-mile) suspension bridge, 22 smaller bridges, connecting all the smaller islands, a four-lane motorway and four double-bore tunnels with a total length of 11 kilometers (6.8 miles). The winning team will run the project finance, handle construction, and operate the connection. From the first 80 contractors, engineers and investors that showed an interest, four consortia emerged, and Webuild is the largest Italian contractor among them. Construction work was expected to start in autumn 2021 with completion scheduled by the end of 2025, but the Covid crisis will result in a delay.

The major projects of Sweden and Norway

Sweden is planning one of Europe’s largest infrastructure projects: the Stockholm bypass. It is currently under development in Sweden’s capital: this alternate route for the European highway (E4) will consist of an underground motorway running below Stockholm.  Out of a total 21 kilometers (13 miles) in length, 18 kilometers (11 miles) will be tunnels. With a mammoth budget of €2.7 billion ($3.5 billion, in 2009 costs), the link will be one of the longest road tunnels in the world. The aim is to relieve arterial roads and the inner city of traffic and reduce the vulnerability of the city’s traffic system. The Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) said that the land acquisition plan and environmental permits have been approved by the government, and that the actual construction work started in 2014. It will take 15 years to be completed. By 2035, 140,000 vehicles every day will drive through.

Tunnels and civil works are expected to cost €2 billion over the coming years. The Stockholm bypass is not the only big infrastructure project in the Swedish capital. Indeed, in recent years Stockholm has been undergoing a transportation revolution. The investments being planned in the Stockholm region has increased dramatically and now amouns to more than €100 billion for 2021, according to Stockholm Business Region. Besides the Stockholm bypass, two major drivers are 180,000 new housing units due in 2030 and extension of the subway.