The fixed Fehmarn Belt Link – A Story of Tunnels and Bridges

by Anna-Cara Keim

The idea of cross- national cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region is a theme that Crossing the Baltic has been extremely interested in. We have previously introduced you to the Nordic concept of twin cities with the examples of Malmø and Copenhagen, connected through the Øresund Bridge and the towns of Tornio and Haparanda in Finnish and Swedish Lapland that are also connected via a bridge.

Yet is another gigantic cross-national infrastructure building project in Baltic Sea Region – gigantic at least in terms of construction effort and costs: the fixed Fehmarn belt link.

Linking the German island of Fehmarn, which is already connected to the German mainland, via a bridge or a tunnel with the Danish town Rødbyhavn  would fulfil a longstanding “dream of a fixed, close and direct connection between Scandinavia and continental Europe”. The Danish hope for an increased cooperation in business, labour market, science and culture and it would be much shorter than all existing connections. The already existing rail route would be shortened of a 160km detour which will result in a one reduction of travel time.

Map of the Region with the proposed new connection – © http://www.femern.com

There have been long discussions about whether a bridge or a tunnel would be preferred. There were a number of pros and cons for both, most notably environment and costs, but it has now been decided on a tunnel. It will be the worlds longest combined road and rail tunnel with its underwater section being 17.6 km long. The construction is such a large and complex project that it can only be undertaken by various contractors – but it is not expected for any contracts to be signed before 2015.

It will be one of the most expensive projects of its kind and the Danish parliament in 2010 estimated the total costs to be around 5.5 billion Euro.
Who will pay? That is a big question that goes back to the origins and the original advocates of what appears to be a bi-lateral project. According to the Danish-German state treaty the country of Denmark is responsible for financing the coast-to-coast works as well as for land works on the Danish side (land works on the German sides will by financed by Germany). The plan is to use a loan for which the Danish government will vouch, so future toll earnings and not the taxpayers money are used to finance this project. Based on the estimation of future earnings, it will take about 39 years to repay the loans. EU subsidies are expected to account for 50% of the planning costs and 25% of the construction costs.

It has become obvious that Germans are by far less eager abut this project than their Danish neighbours and that especially the residents of Fehmarn are unhappy about the expected rise in traffic and they fear great damage for the environment.
Not all Danish people are enthusiastic about the new fixed Fehmarn belt link either. At the moment most transport reaches continental Europe via the land border between Schleswig Holstein and South Jutland which is also home to much of Denmark’s industry. If most traffic is being diverted via the new connection they see a danger for the local economy that could potentially result in job losses and weaken the local infrastructure.

The construction of the fixed Fehmarn belt link still has a long way to go and it is not expected to open anytime before 2021. That will leave the residents of South Jutland and Northern Schleswig Holstein with plenty of time to come up with another plan…

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