Helsinki City Council approves controversial traffic tunnel

The 1.6-kilometre tunnel is estimated to cost approximately 180 million euros.

The tunnel intended to facilitate north-south traffic, by moving cars below ground. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Helsinki City Council has approved the construction of a new traffic tunnel in the Sörnäinen area of the capital.

The 1.6-kilometre tunnel will cost an estimated 180 million euros and is intended to facilitate north-south traffic, by moving cars -- particularly around the districts of Kalasatama, Suvilahti and Teurastamo -- below ground.

The controversial project has been the subject of a years-long heated political debate which continued at the council meeting that preceded the approval vote on Wednesday evening.

The strongest opposition to the tunnel came from the Left Alliance and the Green Party, with Left Alliance councillor Mia Haglund openly expressing her disappointment at the outcome of the council's vote.

"Of course it is annoying and should annoy everyone," Haglund said.

Green Party councillor Anni Sinnemäki — who is also Deputy Mayor of the City of Helsinki with responsibility for Urban Environment — echoed Haglund's comments, adding that she believes the tunnel is taking the capital's urban planning in the wrong direction.

"The goal is to reduce emissions and the tunnel increases them," she said, adding that instead of a project that facilitates more urban car usage, she would have preferred planning that supports walking, biking and public transportation.

NCP delegates welcome council approval

Proponents of the tunnel project on the council — especially members of the National Coalition Party (NCP) — welcomed the approval, saying they see the effects and the benefits of the tunnel differently from the opponents of the project.

NCP councillor Daniel Sazonov stated that the tunnel is a prerequisite for building new environmentally-friendly transport solutions, such as high-speed rail networks.

"Here we are looking for a broad traffic solution and the tunnel will make this possible," Sazonov said.

Construction could begin as early as next year with the aim of the tunnel being open for traffic by the early 2030s.