Transport minister hits the road

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Ketil Solvik-Olsen has set off on what some might call the “mother of all road trips” in Norway. Solvik-Olsen, the country’s amiable new transport minister, is driving the E6 highway all the way from the Swedish border south of Halden to the Russian border in the far north, east of Kirkenes. The goal is to see for himself what motorists face over the entire length of the land.

Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen is using the first few weeks of the parliament's summer recess to drive the entire length of the E6 highway, from the Swedish border in the south to the Russian border in the north, to experience road standards and traffic issues firsthand. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartementet

Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen is using the first few weeks of the parliament’s summer recess to drive the entire length of the E6 highway, from the Swedish border in the south to the Russian border in the north, to experience road standards and traffic issues firsthand. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartementet

“I look forward to sit behind the wheel and drive all the way to Kirkenes,” Solvik-Olsen said after he’d already tested arguably the best and fastest portion from the Swedish border in the south up to Oslo. He’s combining the road trip with several meetings and conferences along the way, both professional and personal and all geared to gain insight into transport needs in Norway.

“I’ll get to test the road and receive a lot of input about highways, harbours, aviation, the railroad and telecommunications,” said Solvik-Olsen, from the conservative Progress Party. “At the same time, I’ll talk with lots of folks along the way.”

He’s driving a special vehicle bearing the name of the project, #E6sommer, which displays the hashtag for others wanting to communicate with him over the social media site Twitter. The long trip, which covers more than 2,400 kilometers through all sorts of terrain, will be broken up into two main phases: From Oslo to Bodø, and then from Bodø on to Kirkenes.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg joined Solvik-Olsen in Trondheim on Tuesday to officially open the Strindheim Tunnel, posing next to the transport minister's clearly marked car. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartementet

Prime Minister Erna Solberg joined Solvik-Olsen in Trondheim on Tuesday to officially open the Strindheim Tunnel, posing next to the transport minister’s clearly marked car. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartementet

Solvik-Olsen drove from the Swedish border north to Oslo one day last week, a lap that only takes around two hours because it’s one of the rare continuous stretches of multi-lane divided highway in Norway. The E6 continues as a motorway immediately north of Oslo, but then Solvik-Olsen, like all other motorists, was set to encounter delays because of major construction projects and a reduction to the two-lane highway standard that’s common in most of Norway. At some points, Solvik-Olsen was prepared to meet even poorer road conditions as the E6 winds its way north.

He hit the road early Monday with planned stops in Lillehammer, Øyer and Otta to visit state highway department operations and meet local politicians. Then it was on to Trondheim, with other local officials and politicians riding with him from Oppdal.

On Tuesday he had more meetings planned and intended to witness a fire-fighting exercise at Trondheim’s airport at Værnes. Prime Minister Erna Solberg joined him, after a quick trip to meet Italy’s prime minister in Rome on Monday, to open the Strindheim Tunnel outside Trondheim. Then he planned to keep driving north to Levanger and Steinkjer, riding part of the way in one of the big semi-trailers that have to compete for space on the road with private cars.

From Steinkjer, he planned to drive on to Mosjøen on Wednesday, stopping to visit a traffic station and open a new road at Harran. He intended to get all the way north to Bodø on Thursday, riding the last leg of Norway’s most northerly train line from Fauske, before flying back to Oslo. The second leg of his trip was set to resume a few days later, as he drives from Bodø to Kirkenes, with arrival estimated on July 3.

“I’m doing this to gain first-hand experience, listen and learn,” said Solvik-Olsen, who enjoys driving and won kudos earlier this year when he broke through some of Norway’s road-building bureaucracy to get some new stretches of highway finished before the busy summer driving season.

Solvik-Olsen said he also plans to monitor and try to prevent what he calls “cowboy” driving on Norwegian roads, both by private motorists and professionals including truck drivers. The government especially intends to crack down on foreign-registered trucks that don’t meet safety standards, for example, or avoid paying road tolls.  The transport ministry plans to start using toll plazas and intensify use of inspection and weighing stations to halt rogue drivers.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund