There is no question that the building of the Hvalfjörður Tunnel (between 1996-1998) represents one of the greatest improvements in Iceland’s transport system since the opening of the Ring Road in 1974, besides being an historical achievement in several senses. It was the first undersea tunnel in the world to be drilled through recent basalt in an active geothermal area. It was the first major road building project in Iceland to be financed by the contractor, so no taxpayers’ money used to pay the construction cost.
The Hvalfjörður Tunnel is a road tunnel under the Hvalfjörður fjord and part of the Hringvegur (Iceland’s ring road). It is 5.8km long and reaches depth of 165m below sea level. Opened on 11 July 1998, it shortens the distance from Reykjavík to the western and northern parts of the island by 45km. Passing the fjord now takes 7min instead of about an hour before.
During the design and preparation stages, it was estimated that up to 1,500 cars would use the tunnel per day, but the daily average over the first year proved to be 2,500 and rose to 4,500 cars in 2005. This is because more people have chosen to use the tunnel rather than drive around the fjord, because the number of cars in the country has risen more than expected, people travel more than before simply because the tunnel is open, and last but not least the toll rate has decreased substantially since the tunnel opened.
Safety equipment – user’s safety first
Although the tunnel was desigened in accordance with the highest safety standards for comparable traffic structures at that time, including various safety equipment and procedures, the Hvalfjörður Tunnel in Iceland received a bad rating in the 2010 European tunnel test. This test is carried out annually by the German automobile club ADAC. As part of the existing action plan to fulfill EU tunnel safety regulations, several improvements were announced for the next years by Spölur, the owner and operator and the Icelandic government.
To proof that they are taking this very seriously and that it is not just words, different safety precautions are being implemented as we speak. Perhaps the biggest achievement accomplished has been the implementation of an automatic incident detection system. Only a couple of months after the EuroTap tunnel test result, 57 Traficon VIP-T modules are already operational to do what they do best: detect traffic incidents fast.
The best automatic incident detection as soon as possible
Nico Verstraete, international sales manager states; “The cooperation with ISMAR went fluently and the customers’ needs were clearly defined. In fact, the need was clear – the best AID and as soon as possible.
Tommy Van den Bergh, project manager at Traficon, explains why this AID installation went so smoothly: “First of all the clear and realistic goals of the end customer Spölur. Secondly the professional approach of our system integrator ISMAR in managing this project. And finally the flexibility of Traficon in delivering the detection units quickly made it possible to install the whole AID system – incl. camera mounting, cabling, etc. – in less than six weeks.
“Although the system is now up and running, we are still doing some final fine-tuning to make sure the system performs well in all weather and traffic conditions. We want to make sure the operator has full confidence in our system and sees it as an indispensible tool for dealing with incidents in case something goes seriously wrong inside the tunnel. Of course I hope this tunnel will be saved from any disaster. The less they need our system the better. But in case of an accident, they can count on Traficon technology!”