Despite government promises to improve Norway’s sub-standard highway system, fully a third of the country’s roads are in “poor” or “extremely poor” condition. State highway officials admit the deterioration will likely continue because funding still isn’t high enough to meet demands.
For decades, state politicians allowed the nation’s roads to fall into disrepair, and they failed to keep up with needed expansion and improvement. An insistence on a piecemeal approach to road construction, with just a few stretches of a highway being widened or improved at a time, combined with pork barrel politics and so-called “horse trading” has left Norway with a road system that, with a few exceptions, has become a national embarrassment.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Wednesday that few noticeable improvements will come any time soon. Officials at Vegdirektoratet, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, admit in a new report that the existing “framework” for the operation and maintenance of the road system “will not be enough to stop further growth in the deterioration” from 2010 to 2013.
That means the roads will continue to get worse because the road authorities lack adequate funding.
Norway’s current coalition government has boasted that it’s earmarked more money for road maintenance and improvement in its National Transport Plan than ever before. Former Transport Minister Liv Signe Navarsete said as late as last year, after four years in her position, that “we will get … a safer and more effective road system which will lead to shorter travel time and lower distance costs for people and business in the entire country.”
Instead, 31 percent of the nation’s state highways are now categorized as being in poor shape and that will likely increase despite the government’s claims. County roads are in even worse shape. The allegedly historic boost in government funding isn’t enough to offset years of neglect and skyrocketing maintenance costs.
Road operation and maintenance functions were spun out of the state road department several years ago into a separate firm called Mesta, which is now the dominant player in the market. Costs have gone up 80 percent since 2005 and Lars Erik Hauer of Vegdirektoratet told Aftenposten the system “is not functioning well enough.”
Current Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa claims Norway has “many good roads” and that improvements are being made, but admits that “deficient maintenance is what worries me the most.”