New highway project takes a toll

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A long-awaited expansion of the E6 highway opened this week north of Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen, but the road improvement comes at a stiff price. Motorists will eventually face no less than six toll gates when the 65-kilometer (40-mile) stretch between Gardermoen and Hamar finally is completed in 2014.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa, at right, were standing by to officially open a new 19-kilometer stretch of the E6 highway north of Gardermoen. Sidsel Sandelien of the state highway agency was among those speaking. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartementet

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa were on hand to cut symbolic ribbons and unleash balloons when the new highway officially opened. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that they didn’t talk much, though, about the tolls needed to finance the new four-lane highway that cost around NOK 130 million (USD 23 million) per kilometer.

Road-building tends to be wildly expensive in Norway, with much of the cost blamed on difficult terrain and the common practice of building only short sections of roadway at a time. The incremental approach, in turn blamed mostly on a perceived need to satisfy local interests, makes it difficult to benefit from economies of scale and long-term planning. In addition comes limited competition among the few major contractors and Norway’s high prices and labour costs in general.

The newly opened 19-kilometer stretch from Dal, just north of Gardermoen, to Minnesund features two new toll gates. DN reported that when the entire 65-kilometer four-lane portion of the new E6 opens in 2014, it will cost motorists around NOK 110 (USD 20 at current exchange rates) in tolls to drive from Gardermoen to Kolomoen, just south of Hamar.

The new stretch of roadway will nonetheless be welcome, after years of construction and traffic congestion. The former two-lane stretch of highway was also notorious for its frequent and serious traffic accidents, many of them fatal.

Stoltenberg and Kleppa thus preferred to boast about the government’s budget allotments for highway safety and improvement that come in addition to the tolls placed on users. Construction of the first sections of the E6 improvement project, expanding the old two-lane road to four lanes from Hovinmoen to Dal and from Skaberud to Kolomoen, started in 2007 and was finished in 2009.

Kleppa announced that construction on the third and last section of the expansion project, a 21-kilometer stretch from Minnesund to Skaberud, will begin next spring, with the entire four-lane highway from Oslo to Hedmark due to be completed in autumn 2014.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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