Motorists trying to drive in and through Norway’s capital face months, if not years, of what’s expected to be the worst traffic chaos ever. Ten of the city’s tunnels have been ordered to undergo rehabilitation, at a time when major construction projects are also forcing constant changes in traffic patterns. As if that’s not enough, the city is also removing more parking places in an intentional plan to further discourage commuters from driving to work.
State and local highway officials are already advising residents and commuters to leave their cars at home and walk, cycle or use public transport instead. The tunnel closures, meanwhile, will disrupt traffic on key highway arteries through Oslo, just as the summer tourist season begins.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that a total of 10 tunnels need to undergo rehabilitation to meet EU demands for better fire prevention and escape procedures. Even though Norway is not a member of the EU, it must comply with most EU regulations in order to maintain access to the EU market. Rehabilitation of all the tunnels is expected to take at least five years.
Many of the tunnels are relatively new, but they now need to be equipped with new electrical and ventilation systems among other improvements. The first tunnel to undergo rehabilitation will be the Smestad Tunnel on the heavily trafficked Ring 3 around the city. One of its two parallel tunnels will close on June 1, forcing two-way traffic into the one tube remaining open.
Other tunnels due to be upgraded include the main tunnel under downtown Oslo (Festningstunnelen, which connects into the newer tunnel under the fjord and Opera House) along with the Granfoss, Bryn, Tåsen, Ekeberg, Svartdal, Vålereng, Hammersborg and Vaterland tunnels.
Parking gets parked
Meanwhile, newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Wednesday that city officials have removed nearly 400 parking places from city streets over the past three years and more will be eliminated over the next few years. Some of them are being overrun by large construction projects going on in downtown Oslo, but the city also has a policy of discouraging private vehicular traffic in the city to relieve congestion and make the downtown area more pedestrian-friendly.
“When the construction projects are completed, it can be a good idea to have an annual goal of removing parking places,” Guri Melby of the Liberal Party (Venstre), in charge of traffic and the environment for the City of Oslo, told Dagsavisen.
Environmental organizations want even more parking places removed, to make room for more bicycle lanes and to discourage driving in general. Many street parking places are now also reserved for electric cars only and equipped with free recharging stations.