My letter submitted to the Stornoway Gazette for possible publication this week, with some links to further information.
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It was heartening to read of serious consideration for a mainland fixed-link in last week's Stornoway Gazette. However, this was spoilt by reading in the mainland media of imagined costs being "Well over 10 billion pounds" [article in Independent, Daily Mail article picture by CJCampbell]. Probably some commentators, rather than research the issue, assumed the cost would be the same as the incompetently managed English Channel Tunnel. That infamous project consisted of two train tunnels, tracks, a service tunnel, and huge support infrastructure. It was marred by bi-nation politics and contractual problems, resulting in one of the worst cost overruns in engineering history.
The cost of a fixed-link mainland connection here should be very different - if it is built the "Norwegian way". Norway has over 900 tunnels, carving through and under all manner of geology, of which 22 are subsea road tunnels. Using their methods, a tunnel from the Hebrides to the mainland could cost around 110 million pounds – just one percent of the cost of the Channel Tunnel!
Examine the Lærdalstunnelen [basic statistics in English here, more detail here] in Norway. This road tunnel, completed in 2000, is nearly 25 kilometres long. It was built with safety in mind, containing 15 turning bays, 48 lay-bys, ventilation, and several huge rest-caverns with different coloured lighting to break up the monotony of driving. Total project cost? Not 10 billion pounds, but 86 million pounds.
This level of cost is more the rule than the exception for sensibly planned long-distance tunnels. A recent Comhairle presentation gave similar costs for other Norwegian tunnels, such as the Frøya (5.6km for £44m), Hitra (5.3km for £31m) and Kristiansund (6km for £51m) road tunnels. These connect mainland Norway with islands containing a few thousand inhabitants each – sound familiar? Norwegian tunnels can also be deep; in the last few weeks, the "dig" stage of the Eiksund road tunnel [see page 9 of this 6Mb PDF-format magazine] has been completed. This serves the island communities of Hareid, Herøy, Sande and Ulstein, at its deepest point being 287 metres below sea level and 61 metres below the sea bed.
There's an added bonus with digging a tunnel – it generates rock, which could either be used to build and strengthen much-needed coastal defences, or sold for revenue. As Lafarge lobbied for several years in Harris, there's a keen demand for this commodity.
It is not surprising that progressive northern periphery countries, such as Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and the Faroe Islands, are turning more towards tunnels. Unlike the "last century technology" of causeways and bridges, tunnels do not suffer the ravages of storms, exacerbate erosion, impede boat passage or interfere with tidal flows and fishing grounds. Islands connected by tunnels do not suffer food and supply shortages or disruption to businesses, when bad weather closes causeways, bridges and ferry services. And unless cryptozoologists discover an "undersea bird", it is unlikely that the RSPB will be able to lodge a planning objection.
The next time you are crossing an exposed causeway in windy weather, your plane hits turbulence and suddenly drops with your stomach, or you revisit your fried breakfast over the side of a ferry on a heaving sea, think: wouldn't you prefer to be driving through a smooth, quick, incident-free tunnel instead?
It has been a long struggle for the funding to repair causeways damaged in the January 2005 storm. Does anyone seriously believe that, when these same local causeways are again damaged by major storms, the Scottish Executive will repeatedly agree to the Comhairle's cap-in-hand grovels for repair funding? Sooner rather than later, the response from Edinburgh will be to "fix it yourself or go the same way as St Kilda". In the long-term, tunnels, not fragile and exposed causeways and bridges, are the only robust, sustainable and future-proof way of connecting these islands to each other and to the mainland.
Outline of the Breiðadalsheiði – Botnsheiði road tunnels in Iceland:
The Hvalfjördur tunnel in Iceland. This went under a fjord and struck hot springs, but was still completed 8 months ahead of schedule:
The Norðoyatunnilin tunnel in the Faroe Islands:
International Tunnelling Assocation:
Norwegian Tunnelling Society:
Icelandic Tunnelling Society:
Community council in Orkney considers tunnel (point 6g):
Orkney fixed-link article in The Times: