The tunnels are opening today. The final price tag is 12 billion ISK, a bit more than the original budget of 7 billion. Most of the difference is because of the inflation during the construction period but engineering problems with ground water in one of the tunnels also pushed up the price.Héðinsfjarðargöng (Héðinsfjörður Tunnels)
What: A road link connecting two towns in northern Iceland involving two tunnels.
Why: To shorten the distance between the towns of Ólafsfjörður and Siglufjörður from 62 km (summer) or 234 km (winter) down to 15 km (all seasons).
When: Construction started in May 2006 and the tunnels are projected to be opened in September 2010.
Cost: Originally estimated at 7 billion ISK but will probably exceed 9 or even 10 billion.
Héðinsfjarðargöng is quite simply the largest single infrastructure project ever to be built in Iceland (Keflavík International Airport may have been more expensive but the cost was payed by Uncle Sam during the Cold War). It involves a 3.7 km long tunnel from Siglufjörður to Héðinsfjörður and a 6.9 km long tunnel from Héðinsfjörður to Ólafsfjörður. It also involves the laying of 3.2 km of new roads connecting the towns to the tunnels and the tunnels to each other. Héðinsfjörður (from which the tunnels get their name) is an uninhabited fjord between Siglufjörður and Ólafsfjörður where no roads existed before. Both of the tunnels have two traffic lanes.
This also the most controversial piece of infrastructure that I remember because it is perceived as a prime example of pork barrel spending by rural politicians benefitting only a few people at a great cost. The town of Siglufjörður has about 1300 people and Ólafsfjörður about 800 people. Combined these towns make up 0,7% of the population of Iceland and those are the only ones that stand to benefit from the project. These tunnels will not serve any greater good beyond those towns because they are to far out of the way for most people. I myself am born and raised in Akureyri, not far from these towns, and I currently live in Ísafjörður which is another remote small town. I like to think that I have a good understanding of the need that people in those communities have for improved roads, it is a matter of survival for them. But I still can not justify for myself the insane amounts that are being spent on Héðinsfjarðargöng, the priorities are all wrong. If it had been decided in 2006 to spend nine billion ISK on the road between Reykjavík and Selfoss instead, we would now have a near-motorway standard road there with completely separated traffic in opposite directions. It would have saved a lot of money in the long run through fewer and less serious accidents as well as preventing injuries and deaths. Instead we get tunnels that allow mere 2000 people to visit each other more frequently. I almost makes my blood boil when I think about this...
Even if we push the issue of cost and priorities aside, this project does not make sense. Two small towns will be connected with each other by a great modern road designed by the latest safety standards and such (and expected to be used by 2-300 vehicles per day) while both of the towns will still have substandard and hazardous connections with the outside world. The connections from Siglufjörður to the west and from Ólafsfjörður to the east both rely on very narrow single lane tunnels and roads clinging to steep mountainsides where there is a risk of avalanches in winter and rockfall the whole year around. Surely it would have made more sense to focus on traffic safety on these existing roads rather than spending all this money on this link between two backwaters.
Why is this happening? It is simply because of a political system that disproportionally favors the rural parts of the country over the more urban southwest. Siglufjörður is also a place that punches far above its own weight even within its own rural region because it apparently breeds politicians.
After I wrote this, the harbour opened again for a few days but was then closed again and has been closed for a some weeks while sand is removed from it. Dredging can only be done in calm weather and there are not many opportunities to get it done during this time of year. Landeyjahöfn might not open at all this winter and it is starting to look more and more like the biggest fail in the history of infrastructure in this country.It has been unusable for the last two weeks because of silt buildup but the ferry started sailing there again today after a big dredging operation. It was always known that the channel into the harbour would need to be dredged regularly but the amount of sediments that has been building up has been much greater than expected. There are two things to consider before the whole thing is written off as a huge fiasco:
A) The vast majority of these sediments can be traced directly to the eruption in Eyjafjallajökull this spring. The river Markarfljót that flows into the sea like 10 kilometers to the east from the harbour carried a lot of silt to the sea during the floods that eruption caused. This excessive silt will be washed away to the sea over the coming months and years with the currents but maintaining the harbour will be more expensive during this period.
B) The ferry that is currently being used is not optimal for operating out of this harbour which was designed for a ship with a significantly smaller draft. Ordering this new ferry was delayed indefinately to cut costs.
This will be a very difficult winter in operating Landeyjahöfn.
Bjarki, too early to get gloomy? The two points in your earlier post may well still pertain.Landeyjahöfn might not open at all this winter and it is starting to look more and more like the biggest fail in the history of infrastructure in this country.
Yeah, I believe the harbour will work out eventually, although it will probably always be more expensive to maintain than was originally planned.Bjarki, too early to get gloomy? The two points in your earlier post may well still pertain.
An on pork matters I see that the new tunnels to Siglufjordur are averaging 500 (!) vehicles a day - above expectation.
No. The company that runs the national electricity grid had a competiton about different approaches to the design of high voltage pylons but none of these unusual pylons have been built.