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Helsinki mulls construction of underground tunnel to ease harbour access

Daily Helsingin Sanomat estimated that the tunnel project could cost up to 1.4 billion euros.

Proposed underground tunnel
In the latest plan, the tunnel would start in Helsinki's Sörnäinen district. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Plans to build an underground tunnel running nearly seven kilometres from Helsinki's Sörnäinen to the West Harbour will be considered by the city's board next Tuesday. Helsinki's West Harbour is Finland’s busiest passenger harbour, hosting passenger ship traffic between the capital city and Tallinn and St Petersburg, as well as international cruise ships.

In the latest iteration of the plan, an extra stretch of so-called "Sörnäinen tunnel" would connect to a longer proposed tunnel that could in future make it possible to bypass the city centre and drive underground all the way from Sörnäinen to several harbours.

Helsinki already began consideration of a bypass tunnel in 2010, and now zoning and excavation plans have developed to the point that the city board can start making decisions about whether the proposal could be passed on to the city council.

City envisions "underground distributor road"

A strategy paper released by the city for the years 2017-2021 makes mention of an "underground feeder route" to reduce Helsinki congestion and the heavy traffic to and from harbours. At the time, the city said the distributor road would largely be financed through road tolls.

Last winter, nine different options were still being presented to Helsinki decision-makers, but now the options have been narrowed down to just one plan for the board to consider.

Yle sources indicate that the proposal on offer most closely resembles the one put forward by the Finnish construction firm Lemminkäinen in 2017, a company that has since been acquired by YIT.

Daily Helsingin Sanomat was the first to report on the latest tunnel developments. The paper estimated that the cost of the tunnel could run up to 1.4 billion euros. Yle tried to reach city representatives to confirm this figure without success.

Tunnel would allow for expansion of pedestrian zones

The city strategy says the construction of an underground feeder route would make it possible to expand Helsinki's pedestrian zones. A list of streets that could be closed to vehicular traffic in future includes the southern shoreline of Eteläranta, Pohjoisesplanadi near the Helsinki Market Square, and Postikatu near the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum. Another option under consideration is narrowing traffic on both sides of Helsinki's Esplanade boulevard to just one lane.

If the board recommends that the tunnel plans proceed to the city council, they will likely face stiff resistance. Councillors from the Green and Left Alliance parties, for example, have said they oppose the tunnel plan because Helsinki should be exploring other methods beyond tunnels for making the city more pedestrian friendly.

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