As Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen reached the end of an epic road trip from one end of Norway to another on Thursday, he said he was shocked by all the reckless drivers and speeders he encountered first-hand. He called them “dirtbags,” and also experienced such bad road and bridge conditions in some portions of Norway’s main E6 highway that he promised funds for improvements.
Among them was the Tana bridge that gives its name to the local municipality Tana bru in Norway’s northernmost county of Finnmark. It’s just a one-lane bridge, built in 1948, that can literally sway, as Solvik-Olsen saw for himself, when heavy trucks need to drive over it. The heavy traffic also forces other vehicles to wait until it’s their turn to cross.
“This is really peculiar,” Solvik-Olsen of the conservative Progress Party exclaimed after observing traffic along with Tana bru’s mayor, Frank Martin Ingilæ of the Labour Party. “You can see how the bridge moves when vehicles drive over it, and how traffic stops up. You need a two-lane bridge.” Asked whether a new bridge might now be expedited, Solvik-Olsen answered “Yes, we need to get that in place.”
It was just one of many roadway deficiencies Solvik-Olsen witnessed during his nearly 3,000-kilometer trip from Sarpsborg in the south to Kirkenes in the north. It began in late June and on Thursday he reached Norway’s border to Russia at Storskog, full of new observations and meetings with motorists, truckers, tourists, transport officials and local politicians along the way.
A new bridge over the Tana River will cost around NOK 450 million (USD 75 million), reported state broadcaster NRK, and won’t be especially profitable in terms of how many vehicles will use it. But Solvik-Olsen defended the expense because business and trade “totally depends on a road system that functions. That creates more jobs, provides tax income for the state and salaries for workers,” he told NRK. Ingilæ said he now has faith that the government will fund a new bridge to improve safety and relieve occasional congestion, something his own party failed to do during its eight years of leading the former government coalition that also include the rural-friendly Center Party.
Solvik-Olsen said he was perhaps most surprised, and shaken, though, by all the reckless drivers he saw on the road. He was prepared to see all the wide variations of road standards along the E6 highway, which stretches all the way from north to south in Norway and can take at least a week to drive straight through. He wasn’t prepared for all the motorists who drove way too fast and, not least, drove into oncoming lanes to pass slower moving vehicles, often at great risk to themselves and others.
Solvik-Olsen called them drittsekker, the Norwegian expletive that literally translates to “dirtbags.” He claimed he was shocked by their behaviour.
“I have seen some incredible and crazy examples of motorists passing big trucks on narrow roads,” Solvik-Olsen told NRK. “I got frustrated on behalf of all the other drivers who experience that there are so many dirtbags amongst us.”
‘Not just a political stunt’
He claims that his unusual road trip is more than just a political stunt aimed at attracting attention. “It’s been really good to experience driving on Norwegian roads for long distances,” he said. And now he realizes he’s created a lot more work for himself.
“Road standards vary too much,” Solvik-Olsen said. “There’s clearly a need to improve a lot along the highway so that there’s some common standard the whole way.” Joined by several other ministers and state secretaries along the way, they identified at least NOK 1.6 billion worth of needed projects in northern Norway alone.