Latest Danish Super-Bridge

Denmark (see the adjoining map, click to enlarge) is very much, if not exclusively, an island-nation. And Denmark remains quite prosperous as well, having so far weathered the financial crises and “Great Recession” of the past few years with aplomb. These two facts have combined to produce a wave of bridge-building projects over the past fifteen years or so – after all, if there’s plenty of government money, why not use some of it to ease inter-island communications? First the Danish authorities built the Great Belt Bridge (almost 7 km long) connecting the island of Fyn with that of Sjælland (where Copenhagen is situated) in 1998. (On the map, it’s in the middle, linking up “Nyborg” on the left/West with “Korsør” on the right/East.) Then in 2000 the Øresund Bridge (almost 8km long) was opened connecting Copenhagen with the Swedish mainland city of Malmö.

The next project will be creating a link ultimately to connect Copenhagen with Hamburg, one that crosses that strait you see there at bottom labeled “Fehmarn Bælt” between the Danish Rødby Havn (North) and the German Puttgarden (South). Right now a couple of commercial ferries serve cars, trains, bicycles and pedestrians for crossing that distance of about 18.6km in about 45 minutes. But that is increasingly not good enough for the requirements of 2010, at least in the eyes of the Danish Transport Ministry which has taken over the project’s leadership – supervised, of course, by the Danish legislature, or Folketing.

Things have reached the stage where construction calculations have been made public and are now subject to Folketing discussion, as we read in a Ritzau news-agency piece (appearing, among other places, in Berlingske Tidende: S and DF [two Danish political parties]: A bridge would be coolest. (That’s the translation I’ve taken of the very flexible Danish adjective flot.) You see, just because they built bridges before, that doesn’t mean they’ll build a bridge again. They could also just make a tunnel. And indeed, as we learn from a parallel Ritzau article (let’s take the one published in Jyllands-Posten), a tunnel would be slightly cheaper to dig/install, namely DKK 37.9 billion (= €5.08 billion) as opposed to a bridge’s DKK 38.5 billion (= €5.16 billion). The point of the JP article is that authorities at first thought the bridge would be rather cheaper than the tunnel, until they factored in the extra reinforcement that would have to be added to its pillars to enable it to stay standing after the inevitable ship-collision happens. But the point of the Berlingske article is that key Folketing members don’t care, they view that monetary difference as minor in the face of how nice and pretty the finished 18.6km-long bridge will surely look. “I don’t have any pictures of tunnels at home in our [family] photo-album,” the Social Democratic Party (“S”) traffic policy spokesman Magnus Heunicke remarked, for example.

Uh . . . and The Germans?

The Germans! Did anyone remember to ask what they want? (I must confess here that I could not find any indication whether those 37.9/38.5 figures are total costs for the bridge/tunnel or only Denmark’s, nor what relative or absolute amount the German government has committed to pay for the project.) It turns out that at least the Christian newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad (they would!) did inquire as to the opinion of the Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), the leading German ecology organization (sort of like the Sierra Club in the US): German nature-folks prefer Fehmarn tunnel.

Actually, they would rather have neither, but if they had to choose, they want the tunnel because of three serious disadvantages to the bridge:

  1. As mentioned previously, ship-collisions: you just know that one will happen sooner or later, and in fact the Baltic will surely become a more busy waterway with increased Russian commercial traffic – and some of that traffic (NB!) includes oil-tankers!
  2. Any huge new bridge (it is planned to be on average 724m above the water!) will severely inconvenience seabirds trying to migrate in that part of the Baltic.
  3. Actually, a bridge would also disturb the water-currents there in ways that would displease the German naturalists! They’re even sore about how that previously-mentioned Great Belt Bridge of 1998 already does that. (No word of complaint about the Øresund Bridge, maybe that’s far enough away from Germany that they just don’t care.)

Again, they really don’t want a tunnel, either, since it probably be a “sunk tunnel” rather than “bored tunnel,” i.e. a big ditch would be dug in the ocean floor, and then the pre-fabricated tunnel would be laid inside and then covered up with earth. Very traumatic for the aquatic life living in the area, to be sure – and you thought you were inconvenienced when the city tears up the street where you live to lay new sewer lines!

But the Danish are rich enough to prefer pretty to cheap, and also to get their way. Expect to see a stylish – and very long – bridge after about a decade or so.

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