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The BBC's Michael Voss
"The 3 billion dollar project took 7 years to complete"
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Saturday, 1 July, 2000, 07:13 GMT 08:13 UK
Scandinavia bridges age-old gap
Oresund bridge
The Oresund Link: A bridge to future prosperity?
By Europe correspondent Angus Roxburgh

When Queen Margrethe of Denmark and King Carl Gustav of Sweden meet half-way between their two countries on Saturday to inaugurate the new Oresund bridge, the hyperbole will doubtless run riot.

Commentators have already been gushing that the two nations have been separated for 7000 years - since the Ice Age!

Before that, one assumes, Danish and Swedish mammoths mingled happily, scarcely noticing each other's funny accents.

In fact, relatively recently - only 350 years ago - the southern part of Sweden was ruled by the Danes. And for many years people from both nations have tootled back and forth across the sound on ferries and hydrofoils.

The 4 km tunnel has a hi-tech automated alarm system

And yet, the new Oresund bridge really is a wondrous sight, worth a paragraph or two of hyperbole.

From a technological point of view, it is a marvel - the longest combined road-and-rail bridge in the world.

And it is not just a bridge.

The link consists of a 4km tunnel, on the Danish side, and an 8km bridge, the two merging on a 4km-long artificial island named Peberholm in the middle of the Oresund Strait.

This being a Scandinavian project, it was built according to the principles of Danish Lego and Swedish Ikea - from a sort of flat-pack, prefabricated tunnel-and-bridge kit.

The tunnel, for example, was not drilled underground. It consists of 20 massive prefabricated sections, each built on land with the tubes for road and railway built-in.

The sections were floated out to sea and lowered from barges into a groove cut out of the sea-bed. Each section was twice the length of a football pitch and weighed 55,000 tonnes.

Mental bridges are already being built, because of the physical bridge

Malmo Mayor Ilmar Reepalu

Only one mishap occurred. Unit 13 sprang a leak and filled up with water. It took six weeks to restore the damage.

The bridge curves over the sea, so that even as you drive along it you can appreciate its shape. Its galvanised steel glitters in the sun, and those parts that are painted are done in special light-absorbent black, which reflects the surrounding colours at any time of day.

'State of the art'

It cost about $2.4bn and was completed well ahead of schedule, in just four years and one month.

One man was killed in a construction-related accident.

"We consider it's real state of the art," says the project director, Peter Lundhus.

The bridge's impact will be enormous and the Oresund region will be transformed.

It links two countries and two cities - Copenhagen and Malmo - turning them effectively into a single multinational metropolis.

View of Malmo
Malmo expects many more commuters from Copenhagen

Their transport systems will be integrated, so commuters can use the same bus or train pass in either place.

The Mayor of Malmo, Ilmar Reepalu, says he expects there to be some 10-12,000 commuters in a few years' time.

For tax reasons, and because of the relative cost of housing, it is likely that much of the traffic initially will be from east to west.

"Mental bridges are already being built, because of the physical bridge," says Mayor Reepalu.

He points to the fact that 11 colleges in the region are forming a "networked university".

So long as the Swedes have such restrictive licensing laws, they'll still flood over here to buy our beer

Elsinore resident

Schools on either side of the divide have set up links. There is a new newspaper, the Oresund News, to inform the region's 3.5 million inhabitants of developments.

There are great hopes that the region, which accounts for 20% of the combined wealth of Denmark and Sweden, will become a Nordic powerhouse. Already it is drawing companies away from Stockholm.

The huge Daimler-Chrysler corporation has just moved its entire Scandinavian operation to new headquarters near the bridge and Copenhagen's brand new airport. Others are likely to follow suit.

Trouble for ferries

Toll prices for the Oresund bridge will be high - about $29 per crossing, unless you are a regular commuter. And one ferry service has already gone out of business.

Lorry companies say they will continue to use the ferries that run slightly further north, from the picturesque harbour by Hamlet's castle at Elsinore to Helsingbors, because there is no price advantage for them in the bridge. That may change, of course, and the ferries will struggle for survival.

"We're not too worried, though," said one resident of Elsinore. "So long as the Swedes have such restrictive licensing laws, they'll still flood over here to buy our beer."

Swedes and Danes insist there is no real rivalry between them - both prefer to reserve their disdain for the Norwegians.

Oresund News
A cross-border paper - Oresund News - has been launched

But you only had to scratch a little, I found, to bring out a national prejudice or two.

"We think the Swedes are very stiff and formal, and humourless," said one middle-aged Dane on the ferry from Elsinore. "And they think we drink too much and are too informal. They call us the Italians of Scandinavia, while they are the Germans."

The Oresund bridge is a model of transnational co-operation. It is 112 years since the idea of a fixed link between the two countries was first mooted.

In 1991, the governments finally signed an agreement to build it, and the project director Peter Lundhus sat down in a basement office with just his secretary and one other person to sketch out the first plans.

"On Monday," he says, "I'll be out of work!" But he doesn't look too dismayed. Nine years of work have produced a piece of engineering to which no one, it seems, can take exception.

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See also:

11 Jun 99 | World
The madness of height
14 Aug 99 | Europe
Scandinavia's bridge of size
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