The government is currently examining whether to introduce tolls on all roads out of the Reykjavík capital area as a means of financing urgent road construction projects, reports RÚV. Minister of Transport Jón Gunnarsson has stated that if an agreement can be reached in Parliament this fall, it would be possible to begin the projects as early as next year.
“These are the sections of the road system with by far the highest rates of accidents,” explained Jón in an interview on a morning program on RÚV’s Rás 2 radio station this morning.
The Ministry of Transport and Local Government wants to work on the section of road from Keflavík Airport in the south to the municipality of Hafnarfjörður in the capital area; the section of road from Reykjavík to Selfoss in South Iceland along with a new Ölfusárbrú bridge for Selfoss; the complete execution of a project in Borgarnes in West Iceland; and then at a later date, doubling the Hvalfjörður Tunnel that connects the capital area with points north and the first phase of Sundabraut road near Grafarvogur on the outskirts of Reykjavík. The Ministry has estimated that these projects will cost ISK 100 billion [USD 958 million, EUR 836 million], all told.
Jón pointed out that the government’s budget plan assumes ISK 10 billion [USD 95.8 million, EUR 83.6 million] for new projects annually. The cost of constructing roads from the capital region is greater than the funds available in the State Treasury, so the government has no choice but to come up with new ways to raise the capital. Introducing tolls on capital area roads would free up available funds in the state coffers to finance important construction projects in other parts of the country, such as urgent road improvement works in the southern part of the West Fjords.
Jón explained that the vast number of tourists using the roads in Iceland could also help in building up the infrastructure. “We need to reach these one-time travelers, which tourists are, to help us as much as possible with this construction,” stated Jón. “Contributions in this form would make a huge difference and will help us build a safer and better transport system, which is one of the basic lifelines if we are going to have real regional and rural development in this country.”
A committee is now examining the possibility of introducing tolls and is expected to put forward proposals at the end of the summer. “If we can reach an agreement in Parliament this autumn, construction can be started on the basis of this immediately next year,” Jón stated.
Jón admitted that tolls are controversial. “There has always been much more understanding and interest in toll roads in the western part of the country where people are used to paying for Hvalfjörður Tunnel. Residents in other parts of the country need to get used to the idea and accept it,” explained Jón.
“It is very important in my mind that charges be set at a moderate level for those who need to regularly travel on toll roads. For the project to get off the ground, it needs to be of benefit to users in terms of savings on travel time and fuel. Not to mention the social benefits from a reduction in accidents,” concluded Jón.