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Societal game changer: the subsea tunnels

The world-famous roundabout of the Eysturoy Tunnel, about 187 meters under the sea. Image credits: Maria Olsen.

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. 

Teitur Samuelsen, CEO, Eystur- og Sandoyartunlar. Image credits: Maria Olsen.

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.

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