Ketil Solvik-Olsen, who took over as Norway’s transport minister from the Progress Party just five months ago, has managed to do what few if any of his predecessors have done before: Smash through road-building roadblocks in Norway, and make sure that a new four-lane highway opens in time to handle heavy summer traffic this year.
Newspaper Aftenposten, which has been covering roadbuilding in Norway closely over the past few years and uncovering all its flaws, had reported just after New Year that the long-awaited E18 expansion just south of Tønsberg was in fact almost completed. It wasn’t officially due to be turned over to the state and opened until October, though, so workers were taking their time with final asphalt and landscape work.
Since this particular stretch of highway heading south along the coast is extremely busy during the summer months, Solvik-Olsen asked the state highway department, Vegvesenet, and the private contractors building the road whether they couldn’t speed things up a bit. He reasoned that it would relieve aggravation for hundreds of thousands of motorists if the bottleneck caused by the old two-lane highway between Tønsberg and Sandefjord could open as four lanes, and reduce the risk of collisions as well.
The answer was affirmative, and now the 24-kilometer stretch of highway will open on July 4, coincidentally the queen’s birthday, instead of in October.
“Opening all four lanes will mean a lot for both traffic safety and access for motorists,” Solvik-Olsen said. He noted that around 27,000 cars travel the road every day now, and 31,000 during the summer, since it’s the main route to the popular southern coastal area of Sørlandet, where many Norwegians have summer houses.
Solvik-Olsen also noted that there have been “a string of accidents” on the road lately because motorists think it’s a divided four-lane highway. As a result, they’ve driven in both lanes of the only direction open, resulting in head-on crashes.
Solvik-Olsen said the early opening can save lives as well as costs. The contractors demanded NOK 35 million more in overtime work to get the road opened by early July, but the minister thinks that will be saved by the reduction in accidents.
The entire project cost NOK 2.4 billion and is an example of the inefficient, piecemeal approach to roadbuilding in Norway that Solvik-Olsen is also trying to change. After years of construction, the E18 highway is now four lanes from Oslo to Tønsberg, but there it narrowed to two lanes until opening up to four again south of Sandefjord.
Solvik-Olsen advocates comprehensive roadbuilding projects where long stretches of highway can be built all at once instead of in short portions that increase costs and take many years.
Traffic on the newest stretch of the E18 will need to slow down from speed limits of 100 kilometers per hour to 80 until all the landscape work is completed in October, Solvik-Olsen cautioned, but from the fall, speed limits will be set at 100 all the way from just west of Oslo to beyond Sandefjord.