New tunnel under Hvalfjörður recommended

Options are being weighed regarding a new tunnel under Hvalfjörður fjord, Morgunblaðið reports. July marked the 20th anniversary of the opening of Hvalfjörður Tunnel (Hvalfjarðargöng), which connects the Reykjavík metropolitan area to the west and north part of the country. The tunnel shortened the driving distance between Reykjavík and Akranes by 60 km and that from Reykjavík to Borgarnes by 42 km.

Since its opening on July 11, 1998, traffic through the tunnel has increased considerably. It has gone from being almost 3,000 vehicles a day in 1999 to almost 7,000 last year. Standards nowadays are stricter than they were two decades ago, meaning that time is ripe for planning the construction of a new tunnel.

According to a European directive regarding tunnel safety, once the amount of traffic has reached on average 4,000 vehicles per lane per day in a tunnel under 10 km, an escape route from the tunnel is mandatory. In other words, once traffic reaches 8,000 vehicles a day, the tunnel may not be used unless escape routes are in place.

The new standards mandate that tunnels be wider than before, with less of a slope. The engineering company Mannvit, in cooperation with Gísli Eiríksson, head of the tunnel division of the Icelandic Road Administration, has looked into various options regarding a new tunnel. A report on the matter was completed in the spring of this year.

The report recommends the following option: A new tunnel with a maximum of five percent slope and a larger cross-section than in the current tunnel, and a shoulder for emergency stops at 250-m intervals. The entrance to the new tunnel would be close to the old one on the south side, but on the north side, it would be farther east than the old one. Travelers headed straight north to Akranes would therefore continue to use the old tunnel.

The new tunnel would be longer than the old one, or 7.54 km, instead of 5.77 km. It would have two-way traffic, with a 1-m wide clearance between lanes. There would be 14 emergency spaces to the side of the lanes. An escape route would connect the new tunnel to the old one mid-way.

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