UPDATED: Politicians were calling for a bipartisan effort to speed up highway improvements in Norway, following a fatal multi-vehicle collision in Troms that left five persons dead and several injured. It was described as the worst traffic accident ever in the northern Norwegian county.
Emergency crews responded Friday afternoon to the accident in Balsfjord, Troms County, where five persons were killed and 14 injured when a bus, a van and three cars collided on the slippery road.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the accident occurred in Lavangsdalen, on the E8 highway southeast of Tromsø. Passengers in the bus included young players for a local handball team who were on their way to a match, according to NRK.
Most of them were said to have sustained only minor injuries, with the fatalities occurring among passengers in the van and cars. Police believe the driver of one of the cars lost control and collided head-on with the bus, which then set off a chain collision with the van and other vehicles.
Hospital workers among the dead
Among the dead were hospital employees who were on their way home to Narvik after attending a seminar in Tromsø. Two of the 14 injured were left in critical condition.
Ambulances, helicopters, police and fire trucks responded to the scene. The injured were airlifted or driven to hospital in Tromsø.
The highway was closed over a four-kilometer stretch, creating long waits at both ends. Detours were being posted on an old road through Andersdalen.
Opposition politicians demand faster improvements
The accident revived debate once again over the state of Norway’s mostly two-lane highways. Øyvind Halleraker of the Conservatives claimed he wasn’t trying to make a political issue out of a tragedy, “but it gives us an opportunity to gather” and try to arrive at a plan for speeding up road improvements. “Security issues around the roads are so important that we must all be able to agree on goals and resources,” Halleraker told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday.
The current left-center government coalition has released its national transport plan, but Halleraker doesn’t think it’s either specific or tough enough. Only 33 kilometers of two-lane highways, for example, are due to receive center barriers over the next two years. “That’s way too few,” Halleraker said.
Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa of the Center Party told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she also was “impatient” over road improvements but argued that the transport will yield results. Critics have complained for years that road-building is done on a piece-meal basis in Norway, with only small stretches expanded or improved at a time in a process that requires individual budget allotments. They argue that major road projects should be approved and funded all at once, to speed up the process and improve economies of scale.