50-year-old infrastructure feud still alive in 2021

A mark of the location at which a 21-kilometre-long highway will soon cross the small island Egholm in the Limfjord near Aalborg. Photo: Simone Stampe Dreessen.

22/3-2021 – Simone Stampe Dreessen

AALBORG: Since the 70’s there’s been talks of establishing a third Limfjord connection, connecting North Jutland to the mainland. Now a solution is seemingly closing in; but is it a bad solution and will it actually solve anything in the long run?

In the west part of Aalborg, the largest city in Northern Jutland, by its inhabitants referred to as “Paris of the North”, there is an area rich with nature, vegetation and recreational facilities such as an open-air bath, a marina, an allotment garden area and a street food market.

Aalborg’s sanctuary i the west

The city is located just south of the inlet, that divides North Jutland from the mainland – the city just north of Aalborg is called Nørresundby. In the inlet between north and south, between Nørresundby and Aalborg, is a small island called Egholm with 49 residents, an untouched gem where nature flourishes and the city seems far away.

Many Aalborg residents use and enjoy the green and tranquil areas in the west part of the city and on Egholm. One of them is Ole Rosenørn de Lasson:

“I was born and raised in Aalborg and love the green areas close to the city. I visit Egholm often and use it as a recreational space to reset my head.”

A man walking his two dogs at the western beach of Egholm. Photo: Simone Stampe Dreessen

But the area may soon become a construction site for one of the largest and most expensive infrastructure projects in Denmark.

A new traffic connection

A 21-kilometre highway is to be built from north of Nørresundby, across the Limfjord and Egholm and down to the south part of Aalborg called “City Syd”, where there is a number of big retail stores such as Bilka and IKEA.

Because of traffic growth and many people living in North Jutland coming to Aalborg to work, there is, and has for a long time been, a need for another connection between Nørresundby and Aalborg – commonly referred to as “the third Limfjord connection”, the first being the bridge in the in the city centre, the second being the tunnel in the east.

That part almost everyone agrees on. But that’s where the agreement stops.

The red line is where the Egholm highway is planned to be constructed. The grey line is the existing highway tunnel in the east. Photo: www.3limfjordsforbindelse.nu

A number of citizens have formed different civic movements to protest the construction of the highway, which they argue would be nuisance not only to humans, but also to nature and wildlife in the area.

“Egholm highway – No thanks”-t-shirts sold in the small self-service shop on Egholm, the islands only “store”. Photo: Simone Stampe Dreessen

When planning these projects, the Danish Traffic Ministry get an assessment done by the Danish Directory of Roads, called a VVM-report (Assessment of Environmental Effect), but the report is misleading in a number of ways, according to Kaj Asbjørn Jørgensen, civil engineer and associate professor in engineering programs at Aalborg University:

“It is a 7 billion kroner project, and it doesn’t actually solve the traffic problems. When the Egholm highway is set to be done in ten years’ time, it will already be insufficient; the traffic will have grown so much by then, that we will be in need of another solution. In regards to traffic it’s a hopeless project.”

Environmental assessment

Another way in which the VVM is accused of being misleading, is that in the newly released version from 2021, only one solution is assessed; the Egholm highway.

But in the law about VVM-reports, it states that at least one alternative solution must be looked at. Since the newly released report is only an update to the VVM-report done in 2011, local politicians have argued that there was no need to look into a new alternative.

An extra tunnel tube

There is an alternative: an addition to the existing Limfjord Tunnel in the east of Aalborg. It is estimated to cost half of the Egholm highway and will also solve the problem better. Kaj Asbjørn Jørgensen explains:

“An extra tube with three lanes would practically be able to create a 100% increase in capacity if you made the lanes reversable in accordance with rush hour traffic.”

The new Elb Tunnel in Hamburg which has a reversible tube, enabling a notable increase in capacity. Photo: Wikipedia

The same kind of solution was used in Hamburg with the expansion of the Elb Tunnel, Kaj Asbjørn Jørgensen points out:

“You would be able to reverse one of the tubes according to rush hour traffic, which is what has been done in the Elb Tunnel. The idea is exactly the same. Similar solutions have also been used in Amsterdam.”

An old political feud

A lot of the struggle about the third Limfjord Connection comes down to political disagreement and power dynamics. The debate is so old that some believe that politicians just want any solution at this point.

A map of the Limfjord/Aalborg area showing who’s in favor of the Egholm highway (red) and those in favour of an extra tunnel tube in the Limfjord Tunnel. Infographic: Jysk Analyse A/S

“The mayor has openly said, that there is no alternative to the Egholm highway. At this point he would rather have a bad solution than no solution at all,” says Ole Rosenørn de Lasson.

Birds and water supply

The Danish Nature Conservation Association is also concerned with the project. It could have potentially dire consequences for a number of birds and a specific type of toad residing on Egholm, and also, for Aalborg’s water supply:

“Approximately a third of Aalborg’s water supply comes from Drastrup Enge, and the Egholm highway would go directly over this area, which is very vulnerable. It seems a bit crazy and risky to build such a construction over that,” says Thorkild Kjeldsen, chairman of the Danish Nature Conservation Association in North Jutland and vice chairman in their Aalborg department.

Egholm is home to number of birds that feed on the eelgrass that grows around the island. Part of the island is a protected nature area. Photo: Simone Stampe Dreessen

The other side of the aisle

There are of course also people in favour of the Egholm highway. One of them is Thorkild Bach, retired civil engineer of DTU and citizen of West Aalborg. He remembers the long history of the discussion of the third Limfjord Connection and argues that there will be adversaries against any solution that the politicians can come up with:

“No matter if you suggest a highway over Egholm, a bridge from Lindholm to Fjordbyen, an extra tunnel tube in the east or any other solution; someone will always be against it. The politicians agreed on this solution back in 2014; this is the solution that’s going to be built. We can’t keep postponing it because someone disagrees.”

The Egholm ferry sails between the marina in west Aalborg and Egholm from 6:30 am to 11 pm every day. The trip takes about 10 minutes. Photo: Simone Stampe Dreessen

The Windmill Complex

The disagreement about the third Limfjord Connection is an old, political and tense feud about an infrastructure problem that needs solving, but is being halted by disagreements about the execution. Ole Rosenørn de Lasson makes a compelling comparison between this conflict and the erection of windmills:

“Most people can agree that windmills are good and we need more of them; right up until someone suggests putting one in your backyard.”

Parliament is set to start negotiating a new infrastructure agreement in the spring, in which it is expected that plans for the construction of the third Limfjord Connection will be agreed upon.