After decades of trying, boosters of an ambitious plan to construct a tunnel for ships on Norway’s west coast have finally won government support for the expensive and ambitious project. The tunnel across a narrow portion of the Stad peninsula would allow many vessels to avoid sailing around Stad’s stormy West Cape, where scores of shipwrecks have occurred over the years.
One determined backer of the ship tunnel said he was so glad that he wanted to declare March 21st a national flag day.
“When you’ve worked so hard for as long as we have on this project, it’s clear you get emotional when you finally succeed,” Svein Gjelseth, a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Gjelseth is from the municipality of Herøy on the West Coast and said that if he’d been back home, he’d hoist his flag high. “This is a day of joy.”
He and his colleagues have had to overcome skepticism and endure ridicule over the project, which some viewed as utopian or “just one big pipe dream.” Now the government is taking the project very seriously indeed, as part of a means to improve shipping safety along the Norwegian coast at a time when prospects for new Arctic shipping routes are also taking shape.
The government, led by Gjelseth’s Labour Party, has been studying the project for the past seven years and admits that it first started being looked at by the government ministry in charge of coastal issues since 1992. Boosters had been promoting it for many years before that, so that navigation around the West Cape wouldn’t be so dangerous in times of high seas and gale-force winds.
“This is a project to promote access and safety,” Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, the current minister of fisheries and coastal issues, told NRK. “It’s important to improve safety along the coast.”
TV2 was the first to report on Thursday that the government had agreed to allocate NOK 1 billion (USD 150 million) to the project in its national transport plan released this week. The money represents the first and largest portion of funding that’s hoped to spearhead other funding.
The project has also been backed by parties at the opposite end of the political spectrum, with Åge Starheim of the opposition Progress Party saying he’s been pushing the project since 1983. “This is fantastic,” Starheim said. “I’m so glad we stuck with this even when some people were calling us idiots.”
The idea of a tunnel from the Moldefjord to the Kjødefjord was first launched as far back as 1874. The 1,800-meter tunnel is meant to accommodate ships as large as the Hurtigruten cruise-ferries that ply the coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. Its total cost has been estimated at NOK 1.5 billion.
Starheim thinks it can “revolutionize” shipping along the west coast, and also relieve traffic on the area’s narrow, inadequate roads. Ottar Nygård, mayor of nearby Selje, was ecstatic. “It’s fantastic for all of Selje and everyone along the coast,” Nygård told NRK. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told TV2 that the ships tunnel was “an important project that will contribute to safety at sea.”
For more photos of how the ships tunnel will look, click here.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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