An expert group of geologists and bridge specialists has concluded that the southbound portion of a bridge that collapsed along the busy E18 highway near Holmestrand last week can’t be repaired. Instead, they claim, the bridge must be torn down and rebuilt after the ground under it has been stabilized.
Officials at the state highway department (Statens vegvesen) said their goal is to maintain the two-lane undamaged northbound portion of the bridge and reopen it to traffic. They told reporters Monday that the adjacent southbound bridge at Skjeggestad, which suddenly sagged when the ground slid out from underneath its support pillars, would be “taken down” in a “controlled manner” to avoid damage to the northbound bridge.
“To achieve this, the ground under both bridges must first be stabilized,” reported Statens vegvesen in a prepared statement. “That can be done through drainage and calcium- and cement stabilization.”
Highway officials couldn’t say how much time the project will take, nor how much it will cost. All agree, however, that it’s critical to get traffic flowing again on the E18, which is one of Norway’s most heavily trafficked highways, running southwest from Oslo.
Geologists and technicians have been examining the bridge since its southbound portion collapsed. They now need to first build a road for construction vehicles under the bridges where the land slid out, before the southbound bridge can carefully be razed and the northbound bridge reopened to two-way traffic. Then construction can begin on a new southbound bridge.
In the meantime, all north-south traffic will continue to be redirected through the town of Holmestrand, much to the frustration of motorists and Holmestrand residents alike. Officials are evaluating reopening the two-lane tunnel built to divert traffic around Holmestrand before the four-lane E18 highway was built. It was closed when the newly expanded E18 opened several years ago, is now owned by Vestfold County and has since been used for storage of highway equipment. If a decision is made to reopen the tunnel, to take the pressure off central Holmestrand, it will also take some time to clean it out and get it ready for vehicular traffic again.
Police expect traffic congestion and delays for many months ahead, if not longer. Traffic is especially heavy on the E18 during the summer months, as it’s the main access for all the communities along Norway’s southern coast between Oslo and Kristiansand.