This floating underwater tunnel in Norway could save half a day in travel time

Norwegians treasure their beloved fjords — and at 1,190 in total, there are plenty to love — but the giant bodies of water pose serious hurdles to travelling across the country, especially when roads are icy in the winter. Journeys that should take hours end up taking upwards of a day, all because people can’t drive directly from A to B.

All that may change if an ambitious engineering project comes to fruition.

The small Nordic country has announced plans to spend a reported $25 billion on a fully submerged, floating tunnel beneath the Sognefjord, a body of water more than 4,000 feet deep and 3,000 feet wide. It would be the first of its kind in the world, and could cut cross-country travel times from 21 hours down to less than 11.

Like many of the country’s vast, yawning fjords, Sognefjord presents a challenge for convenient travel. People in rural areas are forced to take ferries or drive hours out of the way just to reach the other side. A floating tunnel might literally save the day.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration announced its plans for a submerged floating tunnel back in 2011. Since then, much of the discussion has surrounded on which infrastructure design is actually the best for Sognefjord.

Other proposals include a floating bridge or a suspension bridge, but nothing has been decided yet. Suspension bridges are commonplace, of course, but even the more odd-seeming floating bridge isn’t entirely novel. Washington, for example, boasts a floating bridge that’s nearly 8,000 feet long.

While costlier than a bridge, the big advantage of a floating tunnel is that it’s mostly impervious to extreme weather. It also presents less of an obstacle for passing ships and preserves the natural beauty of the fjord.

If completed, the project would consist of dual tubes that span the width of Sognefjord. A series of pontoons on the water’s surface would keep the tubes afloat, and connecting beams would keep them reinforced.

Arianna Minoretti, a senior engineer with the Public Roads Administration, tells Wired that the driving experience would feel just like cruising through any other tunnel. The structure may be floating, but it’s not exactly a rubber ducky in a hurricane.

In the coming years, the country will decide whether the floating tunnel is, in fact, the best option — and if it is, how it can build the tunnel most efficiently. Weather poses natural threats to the structure, as does deterioration over time, so maintenance costs also factor into the equation.

One thing that probably won’t factor in but should: how cool it is. If that were the only metric, it probably should have been built yesterday.

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