Long-awaited Stad ship tunnel

Construction of the Stad ship tunnel is planned for 2018, 144 years after the idea was first introduced

Photo: Appex / Norwegian Coastal Administration  Artist’s concept of Hurtigruten coastal express liner in tunnel.

Photo: Appex / Norwegian Coastal Administration
Artist’s concept of Hurtigruten coastal express liner in tunnel.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

The September 11, 1874, edition of a Norwegian county newspaper that in the lingo of today might be called The Sogn & Fjordane Weekly, led with the front-page headline Kanaltunnel gjennom Stadt! (Canal tunnel through Stad!)

It was sensational news. Stad (the modern spelling) is a peninsula that juts out to the northwest from the west coast at latitude 62° 10’ N. It blocks the otherwise sheltered shipping corridor along the coast. It also is at the boarder between the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea. The local weather accordingly is fierce, and the seas hazardous 90 to 110 days a year. Mariners have long feared Stad, as around it currents are strong, waves high, and shipwrecks frequent.

Canal tunnels had been built elsewhere to overcome terrain impediments. The first in Europe was the 541-foot long Malpas Tunnel built in 1679 on the Canal du Midi in France. The world’s longest was the 3,118-foot long Paw Paw tunnel built 1850 in Allegany County, Maryland, on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. In all, 50 some tunnels were built to accommodate canal freight and passenger craft. But until the 1874 announcement of a tunnel through the Stad Peninsula, none had been proposed or even thought possible for seagoing ships. At the time, the logistics and costs of building a tunnel for seagoing ships 1700 meters (slightly more than a mile) through the isthmus linking Stad to the mainland were prohibitive. The Stad Ship Tunnel seemed relegated to the limbo of unrealizable ideas.

During World War II, the German forces of occupation revived the idea as a way to protect their naval vessels from Allied attack at sea when rounding the Stad Peninsula. But the war ended without the tunnel being built. Even if the war had been longer, it might not have been built, as military logistics were changing, making ships more vulnerable to aerial bombing than to naval engagement in open sea.

Forty years later, in 1985, public and private sector organizations joined forces to promote the tunnel project. The rationale of the tunnel was straightforward: it would improve safety at sea, eliminating the need for perilous voyages around Stad.

After much public debate and several studies in the 1990s and the first decade of this century, in 2013 the Stad Ship Tunnel was included in the Norwegian National Transport Plan and NOK one billion ($132 million) was appropriated to fund a pre-project study aimed at starting construction as early as 2018.

If construction starts as envisioned, 144 years will have passed since politician and editor Livius Smitt (1840-1890) first brought the concept of the tunnel to the attention of the public in the Nordre Bergenhus Amtstidende, then a newly founded weekly newspaper in Førde. Since then, a reorganization of political geography in 1919 changed the name of Nordre Bergenhus Amt to Sogn og Fjordane fylke (county). Roads and railroads have been built, and as elsewhere, much freight transport and passenger travel has shifted to them. Yet the sea remains the backbone of transport along the west coast. So the tunnel is expected to help upgrade public transport with more regular cargo services and a new year-round fast-boat service from Stavanger to Trondheim. Various spinoff effects are envisioned, including boosting the economies of communities along the coast.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 30, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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