The Hvalfjarðargöngin tunnel is probably the most important infrastructure project in Icelandic history, primarily because it shortened the Ring Road by 60 kilometres. Built in 1998, it was constructed by the company Spölur, making it the first private road project in Icelandic history. The government at the time made a deal with the company allowing it to charge for the use of the tunnel for 20 years—a contract that runs out next year. However, Parliament is currently discussing doubling the tunnel and allowing for the continuation of road tolls, in addition to possibly placing them on other parts of the Ring Road.
Stundin reported that figures from Spölur showed that the cost of collecting road tolls between 1999-2015 was one billion ISK, while the cost of constructing the tunnel was 8.2 billion, taking inflation into account. This makes the cost of charging for its use one eighth of the construction cost.
More road tolls!
“We haven’t made a decision on the matter, but it is clear that we need a lot of investment into our road network,” said Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn MP Valgerður Gunnarsdóttir, who also heads the Environment and Communications Committee in parliament. “My opinion is that we need to double the tunnel and whether that is done through a private contractor, or the state, I support charging tolls for its use.”
But Valgerður wants to go further and supports placing road tolls on the highways—including those leading out of Reykjavík—which has never been done before.
Not often do the government and the opposition agree on anything, but Valgerður’s colleague on the committee, Vinstri Grænir MP Ari Trausti Guðmundsson, agrees that the tunnel should be doubled, with Spölur possibly heading the project
“In principle I’m against road tolls, but only when the government is charging them,” said Ari. “But with projects like these I support private companies imposing a fee for its financing.”
Despite Ari’s support for Spölur’s continued involvement, Gylfi Þórðarson, executive director for the company, said that come next year their involvement in the tunnel would end. He says, “Next year when the project has been paid, the tunnels will fall under the government and we will no longer be a part of it.”
Björn Brynjólfur Björnsson, economist and private consultant, disagrees, however, and is opposed to the idea of building another tunnel. He claims that the main reason for the heavy traffic is not a lack of lanes, but the bottlenecks that arise from the toll gates.
“The main source of delays today are the toll booths, and when they are gone that will get fixed,” said Björn. “Furthermore, doubling the single lane roads leading up to them would be more beneficial, because the maximum speed there is higher than in the tunnel.”
He claims that the idea is a bad investment for the public and that, both for drivers and the government, finances would be better spent on other projects.
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