Removing the Island Barrier – the reasons WHY we build Subsea Tunnels

In 2024, the ITA, International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association, will celebrate its 50th Anniversary. The main ceremony will take place during the WTC 2024 World Tunnel Congress, in Shenzhen, China, in April 2024.

To celebrate ITA’s 50th anniversary, a selection committee is picking the 50 iconic projects that best represent the development of the tunnelling industry during these 5 decades.

The selection will be done from around 170 infrastructure projects proposed by ITA Member Nations and stakeholders,

Landsverk, an institution under the Faroe Islands’ Ministry of Fisheries and Infrastructure, oversees road, harbour and entrepreneurial tasks. The organization consults, plans, carries out, runs, and maintains main roads and tunnels, harbours, buildings, helipads, and the area around the airport.
Landsverk is the buildowner of the roads and all the 22 land tunnels, while the supervisor of the 4 subsea tunnels. The buildowner of the subsea tunnels are Public Private Partnerships (PPP’s) owned by the government. The subsea tunnels are too large to be financed by the Annual Finance Act alone.

To be among the 50 selected iconic projects for the World Tunnel Congress, Landsverk have submitted their concept of “Faroe Islands – One City”, which explains WHY the small islands nation has invested so massively in the connectivity of their 18 islands. For 75 years, the Faroe Islands have spent on connectivity, linking neighbouring villages and their islands. Every new link has led to more local and national prosperity – tunnels and connectivity improve opportunities and the quality of life for the islanders. The first fixed links – Streymin bridge 0,22 km in 1973, Hvannasund dam 0,22 km in 1975 and Haralssund dam 0,35 km in 1986 – marked the start of the mission to connect all islands. The technology for building subsea tunnels was not available when the plan began materializing – but it needs the full network of land- and subsea tunnels to achieve the connectivity of now 99 % share of population, now linked by roads incl. tunnels.
The landtunnels and the 4 subsea tunnels in the Faroe Islands have increased mobility and commuting times. As a result of the Vágar tunnel (first) and the Norðoya tunnel (second) and now also the Eysturoy (opened December 2020) and Sandoy (opened December 2023) tunnels, some 90 per cent of the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands are connected through one network of roads. This is a tremendous step forwards for Faroese society as a whole – for businesses, culture and for the people.

Also, due to this connectivity, the Faroe Islands thrive economically, socially and demographically, compared to other small island societies, which resulted in a 10 % increase in population over the last decade.

The rationale behind Landsverk’s concept of “Faroe Islands – One city” is the question of WHY – and not HOW – we build tunnels. This WHY has been researched and documented in depth in the pilot study for the possibly next – and last – enormous tunnel project linking to Suduroy, the most southern of the islands. The pilot study for the new route to Suduroy was finished in 2021, and we discuss with Brandur Sjúrðarson, economic consultant at Landsverk and the project leader for the pilot, about the new methods and aspects documented in this study.

Using UN’s definition of sustainable development (the three aspects: social, economic and enviromental) was the framework for the study. This was quite revolutionary for this kind of projects and was also the reason we are invited to be the key note speakers for WTC 2022.

Covering the sustainable development aspects, we used the following methods/models:

  • Social (descriptive statistics showing social effects by the previous subsea tunnels)
  • Economic (Cost-Benefit Analysis using a danish model called TERESA, where around half of the assumptions of the model were adjusted to faroese conditions)
  • Enviromental (CO2 accounting using a danish model called TEMA, where again around half of the assumptions of the model were adjusted to faroese conditions)

The Pilot Study thus provides a holistic framework around Sustainable Development Goal No 9 (SDG9 – Building resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation) – some of the key findings of the study are:

A Social Analysis (result in a nutshell: infrastructure investments have a positive effect on local communities regarding population, age distribution and workforce and wages.)

Cost-Benefit Analysis (comparing alternatives of 5 different models/solutions to the existing route, which is the ferry, by assuming a 50-years project period. From a purely economic consideration, the tunnel is falling back behind building new ferries. However, in accordance with SDG9, other considerations than economic aspects were documented.)

CO2 Account (The account shows that the current ferry has high CO2 emissions using 1,6 % of the total fuel usage and 17,6 % of the fuel usage of all the cars in the Faroe IslandsThe subsea tunnel has high emissions during construction, but much lower emissions in following operation compared to the ferry. The sensitivity analysis, made in this part, largely confirms, that a subsea tunnel is more environmentally friendly than the current ferry route.)

A Financing model (A comparison of various models for financing a tunnel project of this size. It is too expensive to be financed by the government alone, and user fees alone will not be sufficient to pay back. New models must be found and the legal construction and a particular focus on safety in a tunnel of that length must be looked at.)

This tunnel project would no doubt be the biggest infrastructure project ever in Faroese history, both in terms of size and cost. Safety is one of the biggest issues to be clarified before a construction can be decided upon: underlying safety standards refer to tunnel lengths of up to 10 km and must be adapted to the enormous length of the planned Suduroy tunnel of over 20 km. Due to risk of fire or other calamities, 2 parallel tunnels are discussed for an emergency exit plan. Which would actually double the cost….

Rock Debris from the tunnel construction: This is a new and strong sustainable aspect, as so far, the debris from tunnel projects is considered as cost, but in fact, the debris has a high recycling and practical value which needs to be considered as well in the overall evaluation.

Since 1975 Landsverk has been a member of The Nordic Road Association. The association has more than 800 members and aims to develop road, traffic and transportation areas in cooperation with skilled workers in the Nordic countries.

Landsverk wants to promote the Faroese Tunnelling industry and to export the Know-How gained from digging their way through the Atlantic Ocean to create One City in the Faroe Islands.

Conferences on the construction and the maintenance of tunnel infrastructure are well positioned in the Faroe Islands and can learn from the empirical experiences of Landsverk. So the Shetland Islands have exchanged knowledge with the Faroe Islands for their planned tunnel projects:


If you organise conferences with a topic related to tunnel construction or connecting remote places, it will be a good idea to bring it to the Faroe Islands. Landverk will be happy to offer their expertise for key notes.

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content design/editing: Johanna Fischer / ecomice – FrauBlau for Visit Faroe Islands Meeting, 29.1.24