Government leaders think they’ve finally found a way to remove the roadblocks that have stymied roadbuilding in Norway for decades. They’re setting up a new state-owned company that will assume command over major road projects, in what’s being called an “historic” move to streamline and speed up construction.
“Creation of a separate roadbuilding company is the greatest thing that’s happened within Norwegian roadbuilding since the state highway department was set up,” wrote Norway’s national automobile association NAF in a press statement after Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen of the Progress Party announced the new roadbuilding initiative on Tuesday.
“This is historic and a wonderful day for everyone who wants to see faster construction of secure roads,” added Inger Elisabeth Sagedal, communications chief for NAF, which promotes the interests of motorists nationwide.
‘Professional instead of political’ approach
Solvik-Olsen said the new roadbuilding company will take a “professional instead of political” approach to carrying out an initial seven projects due to cost NOK 130 billion (USD 16.2 billion) over the next 20 years. They include improvements to the E18 highway along the heavily trafficked southern coast of Norway, the new E39 highway from Lyngdal to Ålgard and key portions of the E6 highway near Hamar and on both sides of Trondheim. Solvik-Olsen himself drove the entire E6 highway last summer, from southern to northern Norway, and experienced first-hand the inadequacies that need to be addressed.
The new company aims to do away with the piecemeal approach that has delayed roadbuilding and antagonized motorists for years. Norwegian highways have long been built in portions of just a few kilometers at a time, because of a need for annual state budget appropriations and to appease local demands.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that now the new company, with assured funding and control from the planning to maintenance stages, will be in charge of a streamlined approach that will allow the state government to avoid constant interference in road projects caused by lobbyists, local quarrelsome interests, short-term budget allocations and bureaucracy within the existing state highway department (Statens vegvesen).
‘Doing things differently’
Solvik-Olsen, with backing from all four parties behind the government, said they could have tried to reform roadbuilding through the current system, “but we think we have found an even better solution. At the same time we’re sending a strong signal to the existing highway department about how we want to build roads. It’s time to do things differently.”
He denied the new roadbuilding company will lead to more bureaucracy: “No, this company will have responsibility for projects that the state highway department is losing.”
Solvik-Olsen enjoyed widespread support for the initiative, with Abid Raja of the Liberal Party saying it arose from “extremely good cooperation” among those involved. Linda Hofstad Helleland of the Conservatives commented that up to now, “roadbuilding has been piecemeal and inefficient, now it will be streamlined and done as a whole.” Hans Fredrik Grøvan of the Christian Democrats agreed.
Funding will continue to come from a combination of state budget allocations and road tolls. A certain percentage of the car registration fees will also be earmarked for the new roadbuilding company, with other state money coming from the government’s new infrastructure fund and the transport ministry.
There was little reaction from opposition parties, a sign that there’s been agreement that improvements and changes were needed to more efficiently carry out needed road improvements. Solvik-Olsen was pleased.
“This government is thinking in new ways about how major projects can best be carried out,” he said. “This new company will plan, build, operate and maintain some of the most important stretches of road in the country, in an overall and consistent manner.” The government won’t be tapping the country’s huge oil fund to help carry out the project, though: “We’ll try to do that in the next round,” he told Aftenposten.