State emergency road crews managed to reopen a key portion of Norway’s E16 highway on Sunday afternoon, less than a week after it was buried by a huge landslide. The crews from state highway department Statens vegvesen worked day and night to clear the road, and now top politicians promise a new tunnel will be built so that the highway won’t run along the steep mountainside bordered by a fjord.
The landslide last Wednesday shocked even veteran geologists, and scared many users because of its sheer size. It measured around 60 meters wide, sending an estimated 10,000 cubic meters of rock, dirt and trees thundering down the mountainside near the Hyvings Tunnel at Bolstad, between Bergen and Voss. It took around 1,000 truckloads to clear away the rubble.
By Saturday evening, Statens vegvesen could report that work had gone so well that the road could re-open for emergency vehicles. At 2pm on Sunday, one lane of the road was opened with manual signals to direct traffic.
That means there will still be traffic delays on the road, but motorists can avoid lengthy detours via other highways, such as RV7 over Hardangervidda. The reopening was also a relief on the eve of the busy summer tourism season.
The work on clearing the road had initially been delayed because of rocks that continued to fall from high above the roadside, creating hazards for anyone below. The mountainside eventually was stabilized enough to allow work crews in.
“It has been an enormous landslide, and seeing it makes a deep impression,” said Prime Minister Erna Solberg as she visited the site along with Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen at midday on Sunday, just before the road reopened. “It shows how strong the forces of nature can be.”
It occurred in an area where geologists hadn’t foreseen a slide, Solberg noted. “Now we must continue securing the area, and make sure funding is increased for such work,” Solberg said. “A route has been chosen for a new highway, and the work on it will begin as soon as possible.”
It will still take time, though. Transport officials have decided to build a new E16 with a tunnel through the area, but work can’t begin before 2021 at the earliest. “I can understand folks’ eagerness to get a new road, and we will build it as quickly as possible,” Solberg said, “but it must be properly planned.”
Solvik-Olsen confirmed that “it can take a few years” to build a new road, even when it’s a top priority. “But now we’re beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, since the decision has been made to built it,” he told TV2. He said the Parliament would approve the project early next year and work would get underway immediately.
Until then, motorists must still drive along the existing route, or take the alternative routes farther to the south.