Full speed ahead for E39 highway

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The Norwegian government finally settled on a new route for a scenic but faster and safer E39 highway along the west coast this week, announcing that it would cross the Nordfjord with a bridge at Svarstad in Stryn municipality. The project has been drawn-out and controversial, with many different opinions on the best way to connect the whole E39 without using ferries.

The view from Utvikfjellet towards Nordfjorden. The government this week settled on one of the route sections for the E39 highway redevelopment, as part of its 20 year plan to remove all ferry links from the west coast road. The road will tunnel through Utvikfjellet and cross Nordfjellet by bridge in Stryn municipality. PHOTO: Wiggo Kanck/Statens Vegvesen

The view from Utvikfjellet towards Nordfjorden. The government this week settled on one of the route sections for the E39 highway redevelopment, as part of its 20-year plan to remove all ferry links along the west coast road. The road will tunnel through Utvikfjellet and cross Nordfjellet by a bridge in the Stryn municipality. PHOTO: Wiggo Kanck/Statens Vegvesen

The E39 is a 1,330-kilometer-long highway, stretching from just south of Trondheim, down Norway’s west coast and heading into Denmark. There are nine ferries along the route, the highest number on any single road in Europe. The government is working on a 20-year plan for a ferry-free E39, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

Prime Minister Erna Solberg announced the government had chosen the “inner line” route for a controversial section of the highway, which would tunnel the E39 through a mountain called Utvikfjellet before crossing the Nordfjord by a hanging bridge at Svarstad. It would then connect to the Kvivsvegen road to the north, which opened last year. Solberg said major road upgrades in the area had led to the decision, as well as the shorter distance and slightly lower cost than the other alternatives.

“It means that you get to make the most of the large road investments which have already been made with Kvivsvegen and in Hjartåberga in Volda,” she said. “Those are two areas where new roads have recently been built.” In 2011 the road project was estimated at NOK 4.5 billion (USD 750 million), but Solberg said new calculations show costs are likely to climb.

Delays
Local mayors had campaigned hard to get the new route built through their municipalities, because of the job opportunities the project would create and new residents it would attract. Arguments over the route caused long delays, drawing criticisms over the length of time the E39 upgrade has taken.

“There have been several different alternatives for the transition between Sogn og Fjordane and Møre og Romsdal,” Solberg explained. “That has meant it has taken time to go through it. It is a decision that has large local significance. It is clear that where the road goes, it will also give economic injections for individual areas. Therefore it is important that we think of the long-term good. But we believe we have made the right choice.”

Solberg said there would always be a party left unhappy when there was a choice between different routes, but other projects would come up in the future under the Norwegian Transport Plan, including road connections to the E39.

She rejected criticisms the project was going too slowly, pointing out that over the last six months, the government had made significant progress on the work for a future ferry-free west coast highway, approving four of the five major routes.

Solberg could not put a timeframe on when the new E39 would be completed, saying it would depend on priorities under the national plan. While the objective is to cut out ferries completely over 20 years, Solberg said money for each individual stage would continue to be awarded according to the transport plan.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate