This episode we’re back on the road(s) again! Vivian’s been itching to do another roads episode ever since the Via Appia all the way back at the start of season 1, and today we’re not just exploring one road but an entire road system: Norway’s tunnel highways.
The decision to take this podcast road trip through Norway started when Vivian was sent a YouTube video of one of Norway’s road systems, a tunnel leading to a roundabout inside the tunnel, with one leg exiting the roundabout into a giant suspension bridge back to yet another underground roundabout, which she describes as a “car disco.” Because of its rocky geography and many fjords, Norway is home to more than 900 road tunnels, included the longest road tunnel in the world measuring a whopping 24.5km long.
Back in 2009 Norway was ranked one of the worst countries in the world for road quality, lagging behind Portugal, Croatia, and the famously bankrupt Greece, and far behind other countries with similar economics and geography such as Sweden or Switzerland. One such road was the infamous E39 highway, which runs along the west coast of the country spanning 1,100km, but taking a full 21 hours to drive as a result of 7 separate ferry crossings along the way. In 2017 the decision was made to reinvest a portion of the country’s oil profits back into infrastructure and remove these ferry crossing as part of a scheme that would cost the equivalent of $50,000,000,000CAD, adding a number of bridges and tunnels and cutting the travel time by half through a series of mega projects.
Many of these projects involve mind boggling civil engineering feats, such as the Rogfast, which will be longest subsea tunnel in the world once completed, a full 26.7km long and going as deep as 392 metres below sea level, and will include a diamond-style undersea interchange complete with two separate roundabouts. In addition to the challenges of building the road and tunnels themselves, other challenges will include robust ventilation systems, fire safety systems, electrical systems, and even special types of concrete that will self seal cracks under explosive pressure to protect against potential terrorist attacks.
The innovations involved in the modernization of the E39 will also include some rare structures like floating bridges, and even never-before built structures such as underwater, floating tunnels, suspended by floating concrete pontoons to allow for boat passage through the fjords. This sort of innovation is exemplary of Norway’s future-facing transportation strategy, and as such it is no surprise that the country has the world’s largest fleet of electric plug-in vehicles, per capita, with more than half of vehicles sold in 2019 being electric.
Vallavik tunnel (underground roundabout) | Vallavik Tunnel to Hardanger Bridge video | Hardanger bridge | Trollstigen Road | Rogfast Undersea Junction | Coastal Highway Project Map (courtesy of The Norwegian Public Roads Administration)
Music by: John Julius – Bandcamp.com
Edited by: Astronomic Audio