Societal Game Changer: the Subsea Tunnels

Ahead of schedule, the undersea road tunnel between Streymoy and Sandoy is undergoing finishing work; the estimated time of completion remains by year-end 2023, however the project is perceived as part of a much larger picture. 

Teitur Samuelsen, CEO, Eystur- og Sandoyartunlar (Maria Olsen Photo).

On February 3rd, some five months ahead of schedule, a final blast of rock provided the breakthrough for the undersea Sandoy Tunnel (Sandoyartunnilin) interlinking the islands of Streymoy and Sandoy. Construction work on the Faroe Islands’ fourth giant undersea tunnel had commenced in the summer of 2019 and the 10.7 kilometer stretch of undersea road is expected to be opened for public traffic by December 2023. It follows on the heels of the Vagar Tunnel (Vágatunnilin) opened in 2002, the Northern Tunnel (Norðoyatunnilin) opened in 2006 and the Eysturoy Tunnel (Eysturoyar­tunnilin) opened in 2020.

Now with finishing work including road pavement, installations of lights and all such projected to take 18 months, the Sandoy Tunnel could in theory be inaugurated almost half a year ahead of schedule, which would mean next summer rather than by the end of next year. But turning that theoretical possibility into committed plan is not officially in the cards at this point, according to Teitur Samuelsen, CEO of Eystur- og Sandoyartunlar, the government-owned tunnel operator. “Overall the construction went pretty smoothly,” Mr. Samuelsen noted. 

“We experienced some issues of water leakage but it was successfully dealt with. So we’re cautiously optimistic about the time frame of the project as we haven’t encountered any serious problems up until now. That said, we want to stay vigilant as even finishing work, like anything else in principle, could potentially run into unexpected issues along the way, not least considering the current situation in supply chains generally speaking.” 

‘More together’

Undersea tunnels have become a huge factor in the Faroe Islands, indeed changing the geographical and socioeconomic face of the island nation. With an estimate 90 percent of the Faroese population today able to visit each other by car—in contrast to less than half of that before the arrival of the underwater wonders—the actual transformation of the country becomes evident. 

The opening of the Vagar Tunnel two decades ago, as it turned out, ushered in a new era of increased travel and mobility, especially between the Faroe Islands and abroad but likewise in the integration of the island Vagar with the so-called Main Area around the capital Tórshavn. 

With the Northern Tunnel added a few years later, that process of integration was taken to a new level, dramatically widening the Main Area by including Klaksvík and its surrounding villages. 

Then with the more recent, quite spectacular opening of the Eysturoy Tunnel, connectivity of the area around Tórshavn with neighboring Eysturoy, and by extension the Klaksvík region, received another tremendous boost. Making headlines overseas, the Eysturoy Tunnel—which interlinks Tórshavn with two separate entry/exit points on Eysturoy, Saltnes and Strendur, respectively—has a roundabout extraordinaire, reportedly making it the world’s first underwater tunnel fitted with a roundabout. 

Refreshingly, the roundabout under the sea features a remarkable work of sculpture and light art.

“The idea of adding a piece of art came up after the story of the roundabout became widely known,” Mr. Samuelsen recalled. “We were taken by surprise over the international attention the project was getting so we quickly decided to explore the possibility of adding something more that could put an icing on the cake as it were, and what better than art?”

The world-famous roundabout of the Eysturoy Tunnel, about 187 meters under the sea (Maria Olsen Photo).

The renowned artist Tróndur Patursson accepted the challenge to create an art piece for the roundabout. The rest is history—the whole thing went viral.

“I spoke to Patursson about it,” Mr. Samuelsen was quoted as explaining according to CGTN Europe. “The art symbolizes among other things the people walking from the darkness toward the light. Which means that every person shall use their skills here in life for something. It also symbolizes the Faroese chain dance, where people hold hands, and when the Faroese hold hands—working together—we are able to do more together than individually.”

Combined, the subsea links have made, and continue to make, the Faroe Islands a remarkably well interconnected country, and that process is far from over, quite the contrary. Arguably, at the same time, those engineering marvels may well in themselves have served to inspire and further galvanize the sense of achievement and empowerment that the islanders already have been blessed with from earlier.

Now with Sandoy, too, soon to become an integral part of the Main Area, the vision of the ultimate goal of a still greater undertaking is doubtlessly destined to come to the fore in earnest: a mammoth undersea road tunnel from Sandoy to the relatively distant and southernmost island Suðuroy.

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