Funding sinks for a ships’ tunnel

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More than 100 years of hopes and plans for a unique tunnel for ships off Norway’s West Coast are now desperately treading water. No funding at all was allocated for the project in the conservative government’s state budget proposal for next year.

This illustration was used with the project in 2013. Any tunnel that is built, though, would probably be smaller and used for passenger ferries, fishing boats and leisure craft, not Hurtigruten or other large ships. PHOTO: skipstunnel.no

The long-discussed tunnel would allow fishing boats and other vessels to avoid sailing around Stad, Norway’s notorious West Cape that’s known for its stormy weather and treacherous waves. Large modern ships navigate it every day, but it can be dangerous for smaller vessels.

“Stad is an area where currents meet and build up big waves,” Rolf Domstein told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday. He’s been the most recent leader of a project that dates back to 1874, when the idea of digging a tunnel through a narrow portion of the Stadlandet peninsula was first discussed. It wasn’t until the 1980s that a company was formed to try to materialize the plans. Nearly 20 evaluations and 30 years later, it now looks like the plan may be sunk in the state budget, even though it was a part of the National Transport Plan in 2013.

The problem is clearly the estimated price tag, which has risen from NOK 2.6 billion to NOK 3.3 billion (USD 412 million), according to Domstein. Current plans call for a tunnel between Eide in the Moldefjord and Kjøde on the Vanylvsfjord in the municipality of Selje. It would be 1.7 kilometers long and the first of its kind in the world.

The current conservative government coalition, however, apparently doesn’t want to spend any more money on the project. When Finance Minister Siv Jensen of the Progress Party presented the government’s budget proposal for 2019 Monday morning, there was no funding for the tunnel included. NRK reported that the transport ministry will now evaluate whether there will be any further evaluation of the project.

“We want better access for boats along the coast,” Domstein said. “More transport of seafood is moving from land to sea along with passenger traffic, but many fast ferries aren’t certified to sail around Stad with passengers.”

He lacks support, however, from the Norwegian Shipowners Association, whose members sail up and down the coast with more than 150 vessels. Most are big enough to go around Stad.

“Our members say they won’t use the tunnel,” Amund Drønen Ringdal of the shipowners’ group told NRK. “This is a project that demands too much time and is unnecessary.” He added that ships’ speed would need to be greatly reduced to navigate in, though and out of the tunnel, in addition to anchoring up and waiting for access. That would eat into time and costs.

The costs simply don’t justify potential usage. Not even the famed coastal voyage line Hurtigruten is interested. Its ships sail around Stad twice a day.

Domstein isn’t giving up and thinks demand and traffic would eventually justify the project. A decision on the tunnel’s fate may be made later this fall.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund