BUILDING a six kilometre long tunnel between the Shetland mainland and the island of Whalsay could cost as much as £83.6 million, rising to £112 million in a worst case scenario.
Following a three hour special meeting of a infrastructure committee on Friday morning, no final decision on the protracted issue has been made yet, but the potential cost and the timeframe involved has become clearer.
Five tunnel experts from Norway had travelled to Shetland to give presentations at the meeting which was also attended by some islanders from Whalsay.
A final council decision on whether a tunnel or an upgraded ferry service would best serve Whalsay is expected to be made by the end of June.
Councillors agreed that a tunnel was not affordable “without external funding”.
A council delegation will now travel to Edinburgh on 21 June to lobby Scottish finance minister John Swinney for government funding.
The meeting yesterday heard that a six kilometre tunnel linking Whalsay with the Shetland mainland would be “a big job to cut your teeth” as it would be the first road subsea tunnel in the UK.
However, since Norwegian engineers have already built 1,000 tunnels, including 25 subsea tunnels in their own country, as well as a number of tunnels in countries around the globe, the consultants present at Friday’s meeting did not foresee any problems with doing the same in Shetland.
Kjetel Vikane of engineering company AF Group said that with the information available to date, including surveys and connecting roads, a tunnel to Whalsay could be build for £84 million.
He added: “I f you want to put a budget in place, we reckon that you need £112 million at this stage, but it is likely that this amount will be reduced as time progresses. The indicative outcome is £84 million.”
Geologists have identified a preferred corridor for a proposed tunnel, which would run from the Hill of Marrister, on Whalsay, via West Linga to Fora Dale, in Lunnasting, with its deepest point below Dragon Ness.
The tunnel would be between 5.5 and six kilometres long, would require 2.5 kilometres of new connecting road plus improvements to a further 2.5 kilometres of road. The tunnel would surface around three kilometres inland on Shetland mainland.
Research manager of Scandinavia’s largest independent research organisation SINTEF, Eivvid Grøv told the meeting that tunnels built by Norwegian experts in the Faroe Islands had created an “infrastructure revolution”.
The two tunnels, Vagatunnilin, 4.9 kilometres in length, opened in 2001, as well as Nordoyatunnilin, 6.2 kilometres in length, opened in 2006, have reduced travelling time between the south and the north of Faroe from one day to one and half hours.
“The Norwegian concept of drill and blast tunnels is well tried and tested and can also be applied outside Norway,” he said.
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