Norway is looking into building underwater bridges

Like this. Image: Norwegian Public Road Administration (NPRA).

Cool summer breezes drifting over the clear-blue water; snow-covered picture-perfect scenes in winter. It’s hard to imagine how life amongst Norway’s fjords could be anything other than perfect.

But, being us, we’re going to find something to complain about, and it’s probably going to be do to with transport.

The central artery of Norway’s western region, connecting the towns of Kristiansand in the south and Trondheim in the north, is Highway E39. It’s 1,100km long, which is about twice the length of the A1, but it takes a phenomenal 21 hours on average to slog along its full length.

That’s because it crosses seven major fjords, some as big as 5km wide and 1km deep, as well as several other smaller fjords, channels, or inlets. These can only be crossed by ferries, if the seas are kind, or helicopter, if they’re not. When you think about such vast obstructions, 21 hours suddenly doesn’t seem quite so incomprehensible.

You see the problem? 

The solution? “Underwater bridges”, sitting under 30 to 100 feet of water, with vertical tethers attached to the seabed, or to floating pontoons on the water surface. They’re technically known as submerged floating tunnels (SFT), and if employed along the E39 route they could cut travel times from 21 hours to 11 hours. For a route along which one-third of Norwegians live, that’s not to be belittled.

It sounds a deranged, futuristic idea, but it’s not really new at all. In 1865, an MP by the name of Sir Edward James Reed suggested the idea in Parliament as a means of crossing the English Channel. He was a naval architect and author alongside being an MP, and served as Chief Constructor of the Royal Navy from 1863 to 1870.

As a sign of the times, the idea failed to curry much favour in the Commons: MPs were worried it could be used as a method of invasion from the Continent, and his idea of a cross-channel submerged floating tunnel never got much further than fantasy.

The concept has since cropped up in various other guises, none of which is yet to get beyond the blueprint stage. In the 1980s, it was suggested as an option for a crossing of the Messina Strait between mainland Italy and Sicily, and it’s cropped up in Norway as a suggestion for projects including Vallavik, Høgsfjord, and Storfjorden.

The difference is that this time it might actually happen.

A cutaway of how the SFT would look. Image: Norwegian Public Road Administration (NPRA).

Arianna Minoretti, from the Norwegian Public Road Administration (NPRA) who are managing the project, says that each fjord has unique “characteristics”, and each will need its own solution. But she particularly likes the SFT option – or “hidden” bridge, as she calls it – and says it is particularly attractive as the technology and resources to construct such a tunnel have only just become feasible.

The SFTs also have the advantage of being, as the name implies, submerged, thereby not impacting on the beautiful landscape of the fjords in the same way as a regular bridge inevitably would.

For a lucky few who spend their time nipping across the fjords of Norway’s west, relief may be in sight. But what about the rest of us who don’t have the good fortune to live in such idyllic, if geographically drastic, climes?

A paper published in 2007 by a Norwegian academic and a group of engineering consultants looked into the possibility that such tunnels could be “extended perhaps by a factor of 100 or more” into imaginatively named “Very Long Tunnels” (VLT).

The primary purpose of such Very Long Tunnels? “To serve the developments in long distance travel in MAGLEV”, the super-fast train system by which trains float above the tracks using magnetic levitation (hence, Maglev).

The vision is that eventually such VLTs could be the conduit of a Trans-Ocean Tunnel (TOT) connecting either side of the Atlantic Ocean. One of the most obvious routes would be between London (or the British Isles more generally) and the eastern seaboard of the United States to New York.

One small step for Norway, then, and one giant leap for the future of intercontinental transport.

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When should you forget the bus and just walk?

Might as well talk, tbh. Image: Getty.

It can often be tempting to jump on a bus for a short journey through the city, especially when it’s raining or you’re running behind schedule. Where there are dedicated bus lanes in place, it can feel as though you speed past gridlocked traffic. But as city authorities begin new initiatives to get people walking or cycling, that could all change – and so could you.

British people are wasting tens of hours in traffic every year: London comes top, with the average commuter spending 74 hours in traffic, followed by Manchester, with 39 hours and Birmingham and Lincoln, both with 36 hours.

It might surprise some people to learn that cities are intentionally slowing down private vehicles, in order to shift people to other, more efficient, modes of transport. In fact, Transport for London removed 30 per cent of the road capacity for private vehicles in central London between 1996 and 2010. That trend continues today, as the organisation gives over more space for buses, cyclists and pedestrians.

London’s road capacity, over time. Image: Transport for London/author provided.

Clamp down on cars

The loss of road capacity for cars has occurred across most UK cities, but not on the same scale everywhere. The good news is that the changes, when made, appear to have reduced actual car congestion. It seems that by making it less attractive to use your car, you’ll be more likely to use other transport. In fact, the average speed of buses and cyclists can be up to twice as fast as normal traffic in cities such as London.

The relationship between walking and improved health has been proven to such an extent that it seems everyone – your doctor, your family, regional and national government – wants to increase physical activity. The savings in health care costs, are via improved fitness, reduced pollution and improved mental health, and its impact on social care are huge.

For instance, Greater Manchester wants to increase the number of people who get the recommended level of exercise (only about half currently do). The most advanced of these plans is London’s, which has the specific goal of increasing the number of walks people take by a million per day.

So, the reality is that over the next few years, walking will gradually appear more and more “normal” as we are purposefully nudged towards abandoning our rather unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles.

The long journey

Consider this: the typical bus journey in the UK is almost three miles, with an average journey time of around 23 minutes. The equivalent walk would take approximately 52 minutes, travelling at just over three miles per hour. It seems obvious that the bus is much faster – but there’s much more to consider.

People normally walk at least a quarter of a mile to and from the bus stop – that’s roughly ten minutes. Then, they have to wait for a bus (let’s say five minutes), account for the risk of delay (another five minutes) and recover from the other unpleasant aspects of bus travel, such as overcrowding.

This means that our 23 minute bus journey actually takes 43 minutes of our time; not that much less than the 52 minutes it would have taken to walk. When you think of the journey in this holistic way, it means you should probably walk if the journey is less than 2.2 miles. You might even choose to walk further, depending on how much value you place on your health, well-being and longevity – and of course how much you dislike the more unpleasant aspects of bus travel.

The real toss up between walking and getting the bus is not really about how long it takes. It’s about how we change the behaviour and perceptions we have been conditioned to hold throughout our lives; how we, as individuals, engage with the real impacts that our travel decisions have on our longevity and health. As recent converts to walking, we recommend that you give it a go for a month, and see how it changes your outlook.

The Conversation

Marcus Mayers, Visiting Research Fellow, University of Huddersfield and David Bamford, Professor of Operations Management, University of Huddersfield.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.