Oslo-area residents stuck in traffic while returning from the long Pinse (Whitsund) holiday weekend Monday evening were greeted by news reports that they’ll soon have to pay even more for the experience. Norway’s capital is due to be cordoned off by 55 additional toll plazas, and motorists will be charged to both enter and leave the city.
It’s all part of new plans to pay for expansion of the main E18 highway west of Oslo, but also discourage driving in the city. A controversial political turnaround, in which the Parliament literally ran over an earlier agreement struck by local officials, means motorists will have to pay NOK 2.5 billion more in road tolls to finance the expansion of the E18 from Lysaker at the Oslo city border west to Ramstadsletta in Bærum.
It already costs more than NOK 50 (USD 6) to drive a gasoline-fueled car from Bærum into Oslo, which requires going through two toll plazas. From March 1, 2019, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), the NOK 34 toll into Oslo alone will jump to NOK 43. During the commuter rush hour, the toll will be NOK 53. Diesel-fueled cars used by commuters will be charged NOK 58.
In addition comes the additional toll at the plaza already set up in Bærum, near the turnoff to Fornebu, which will rise as well, and for the first time, motorists will face tolls leaving Oslo, too. NRK reported that residents of suburban Bærum and Asker who drive into Oslo in a diesel-fueled car will likely face total daily road tolls of NOK 87 (USD 10.50), or at least NOK 70 if they receive discounts through use of automatic payment plans.
Tolls will be even higher for trucks, and local officials agreed during special meetings held during the holiday weekend to set up 55 new toll plazas all over Oslo, in addition to the 29 already in place. New tolls will be charged commuters and other motorists entering Oslo from the east and south, for example from Romerike and Follo. Additional tolls will be charged for those also entering downtown Oslo (within the so-called Ring 2). There will be new toll plazas on the outer Ring 3 loop around Oslo between Grefsen and Sinsen and at Bryn, for example, along with one out to the Bygdøy peninsula on the city’s west side. Toll rates haven’t yet been set.
“We need to make more calculations on how much the tolls will actually be,” Anette Solli, county mayor for Akershus for the Conservative Party, told NRK, “but we agree (with the Labour-run Oslo city government) on the principles involved.” She said the goal is to make the system “more fair” and better “share the burden” of highway improvements. New tolls both in and out of Oslo, she argued, “are more flexible, in that drivers can plan when to drive and avoid the highest rush-hour tolls.”
Neither Solli nor her Oslo counterpart, Lan Marie Bguyen Berg of the Greens Party, were happy about having to meet and set all the new tolls. They felt it became necessary, however, when an E18 expansion agreement they had struck last year along with the Labour Party in Oslo was suddenly struck down in May by the head of the state highway department Terje Moe Gustavsen. The local officials wanted to pare back the E18 expansion, arguing that was the best way to discourage driving. They agreed, however, that some improvements were needed. Then Gustavsen decided that it would be more “professional” to extend the expansion project, over a longer strip of roadway. Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen of the Progress Party, always keen on new road projects, quickly agreed.
That set off a political turnaround because Gustavsen is a Labour Party veteran who got fellow Labour Party politicians in Parliament to also agree, much to Solvik-Olsen’s delight. The state Labour Party politicians thus overrode Labour’s city politicians in Oslo, much to the disappointment of Berg and top Oslo politician Raymond Johansen of Labour.
Johansen, Berg and a distressed Solli responded by pushing through the road tolls as a major means of financing the project, in the form of user fees instead of more state or city funding.
‘El-biler’ will still avoid tolls
Electric vehicles that are emission-free will continue to be exempt from all tolls under the current plan, including the owners of expensive electric cars like Teslas. There’s been momentum for limiting their exemption, with some Norwegian politicians arguing that anyone who can afford a Tesla can afford to pay tolls, but the proposal hasn’t won widespread support yet.
The hefty new road tolls, also aimed at discouraging driving into and through Oslo, were unveiled just days after Oslo was named to be the “environmental capital” of Europe in 2019. The title of European Green Capital was awarded largely because of Oslo’s ever-expanding public transport routes, efforts to discourage and even ban cars from entering downtown areas and the city’s promotion of its parks and open areas surrounding the capital. The European jury also lauded how Oslo has opened up creeks and other waterways that had been channeled into underground pipes, greatly expanded bicycle lanes and closed off streets and waterfront areas to pedestrian traffic only.
Not everyone is happy with the city’s efforts, including downtown residents who have lost street parking for their cars. Nearly 2,000 motorcyclists protested in Oslo recently over the city’s plans to remove parking for them, too. The issue will be up for more political debate in mid-June.