After years of quarreling over how to relieve congestion on the E18 highway into Oslo, how to finance it and even whether the road’s capacity should be expanded at all, politicians finally struck a compromise over the weekend. Few are happy, more fights loom and motorists using the E18 will see their road tolls nearly double.
Even electric cars will have to start paying a toll on the E18 west of the Norwegian capital, albeit just a third of what diesel cars will have to pay, or what others will be charged during the commuter rush periods.
Electric car drivers have been exempt from road tolls in Norway, along with enjoying a string of other tax breaks and financial incentives, but now they’ll be charged NOK 10 (around USD 1.20) to drive into Oslo starting next year, NOK 20 from 2018 and NOK 30 from 2020.
The tolls will apply druing the morning and afternoon commuter rush periods, from 6:30-9am and from 3-5pm. Electric cars won’t be charged outside those periods but both diesel- and gasoline-fueled cars will, and much more than currently.
Diesel vehicles will have to pay NOK 58 into Oslo plus NOK 16 in suburban Bærum, for a total of NOK 74 (USD 9) if driving from western Bærum and suburban Asker, for example. Drivers of cars using lead-free gasoline will have to pay an Oslo toll of NOK 53 and a suburban toll of NOK 16 if driving in from west of Lysaker. Tolls will be lower during other times of the day.
Road and rail package
The money, along with billions in state and local funding, will be used for some physical expansion of the highway but not as much as originally intended. That’s largely because Oslo city politicians are now led by the Greens party, which campaigned and won on a platform of limiting private car use in the city. It has opposed nearly all proposals to increase vehicular access to the city, but had to cave in to some increase in capacity.
In addition to new semi-tunnels between Strand and Lysaker, where bumper-to-bumper traffic today is often standing still, a new five-lane highway into Oslo will be designated for various types of traffic. Bicyle and commuter lanes will be added with improvements also made in and around Sandvika, west of the city, also an area that suffers from severe congestion.
Billions more will be used on finally building a new rail line to Fornebu, which has become a major business and residential area since the old airport there closed in 1998. The new rail line, called Fornebubanen, is due for completion in 2024. Oslo’s metro system (T-bane) will also be expanded, with a new tunnel to be built under the city and completed by 2028.
Oslo, among the fastest-growing capitals in Europe, will also eventually see a new rail line to Romerike and the hospital at Lørenskog, Ahus northeast of downtown, but likely not for several years after the Fornebu line is opened.
Positive spin amidst criticism
Politicians from Oslo, Bærum and Asker were putting the best possible spin on their compromise, with Asker Mayor Lene Conradi of the Conservatives calling it a major relief. “It’s a big victory for the E18 west corridor,” she told state broadcaster NRK. She and politicians in Asker also claimed reason to feel confident that despite Oslo politicians’ objections, the E18 will also be expanded farther west of the capital. The first phase of the E18 project is due to begin in 2018.
Critics claimed that even the higher tolls may not prevent motorists from continuing to drive into town, and noted that many already are using public transport instead. They thus don’t see how congestion on the E18 can really be reduced, while the costs of the higher tolls by those who must drive (like tradesmen and delivery trucks) will simply be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Lan Marie Nguyen Berg of the Greens, in charge of transport for the Oslo, ended up having to go along with 1.5 kilometers of an expanded E18 from Oslo to the Bærum border, but stressed that it was scaled down and some of it postponed.