Since 1999, some twenty tunnels in Norway have been inspected by EuroTAP. All of the tunnel inspections carried out annually have been conducted by the same team of evaluators and always within a framework of constructive dialogue with Norway's State Road Administration.
The first tunnel ever inspected by EuroTest, a high volume city tunnel in Bergen, was evaluated to be in a miserable condition. This result came as no surprise to NAF. Indeed, the tunnel, because of its age, had been deliberately selected as a tunnel of "doubtful" quality. However, unbeknown to us at the time of selecting the tunnel, the Bergen Fire Brigade was already imposing daily fines for identified irregularities.
The highlight of NAF's press conference, organised to launch the tunnel test results, was the arrival of Bergen city's fire commander-in-chief in a fire fighting vehicle. His reason for showing up he announced was to give his full backing to EuroTAP and the findings identified in Bergen. The media much impressed by this colourful press event, headlined the story for days after.
Norway, together with Japan, has the largest number of tunnels in the world. About a thousand of them are longer than 500 metres and many are underwater tunnels. The longest tunnel in the world, the 25 kilometre long Laerdal tunnel has of course, already been tested by EuroTAP. In addition, three other deep and long underwater tunnels have been inspected. The results have been on many occasions "poor" or even worse "very poor". The State Road Administration has usually responded to the criticism by referring to the fact that in general these tunnels experience low traffic volumes and that there have been hardly been any tunnel accidents. However, in the light of a yearly traffic growth of three to four percent, this continued lack of maintenance and upgrading has become in terms of political discussions a veritable "hot potato" over which various Ministers of Transport were frequently confronted by NAF and other road users' organisations in recent times.
Fortunately, NAF and the road authorities have always maintained a transparent relationship. When EuroTAP tunnel inspections were first introduced in Norway, they were met with some degree of visible arrogance on the part of the road authorities. That attitude soon became history and subsequently, the EuroTAP results have been carefully considered, resulting in several fruitful measures as well as debates at Minister level.
Christmas Day 2006 tunnel safety in extremis was scorched across the news media and in motorists mind. A relatively new tunnel, the Hanekleiv tunnel, on E-18 just outside Oslo for no justifiable reason collapsed partially. Re-opened after half a year, it was concluded that the main reasons for this potential tunnel catastrophe included, a lack of quality control routines coupled with a lack of defined responsibility. The managing director of the Directorate of Roads had no choice but to resign his office. The conclusion vindicated EuroTAP‘s philosophy of regular inspections with widespread dissemination of the results to decision makers, operators and the general public, calling for improvements and change where considered necessary. Credit for this was also given by the Norwegian Media. It has to be mentioned that, only months prior to the collapse, NAF had recommended that the Hanekleiv tunnel be selected for testing by EuroTAP in 2007.
Even this year's results of tunnel inspections in Norway are written in red. Again, for NAF, this comes as no surprise since the selected tunnels, the Eikefet, the Matreberg and the Jernfjell on E39 north of Bergen, were all deliberately chosen to attract media attention to their poor condition and pitiful state of maintenance. This in turn should be useful as a tool to achieve increased grants to road budgets generally and in particular to the ongoing national tunnel upgrading programme. It is doubtful whether this programme would ever have been given same priority if EuroTAP and NAF had not been active the tunnel safety arena.
The Norwegian motorist and tourists visiting Norway on wheels can now look forward to seeing at least a glimpse of light at the end of Norway's thousands of tunnels.