German Federal Court rules in favor of multi-billion Euro project; Construction may begin.
LEIPZIG/ FEHMARN/ FLENSBURG- It’s supposed to be the longest tunnel in Europe, at 18 kilometers (11.3 miles), carrying train and vehicular traffic. Instead of bottlenecks going through Fehmarn Island and a 45-minute ferry ride between Puttgarden and Rodby, the trip would be 10 minutes. The time from Hamburg to Copenhagen reduced from five hours to only three. Yet the project has been an eyesore and a platform for hefty debates for over a decade between those favoring the project and those opposing it. Their arguments: noise pollution due to a high increase in traffic, irreversal damage to the reefs in the Belt region between the Danish island of Lolland and Fehmarn, and the endangerment of porpoise, and financial ruin due to construction.
Now the German Federal Court has decided: The Tunnel can be built. The ruling happened in Leipzig today, putting the decade long battle to a permanent end. The argument was that the contract between Denmark and Germany was signed in 2008 and ratified a year later. Denmark has already received the green light to build the tunnel since 2015 and will bear the majority of the cost- namely, 7.1 billion Euros- for building the mammouth structure that will run below the sea floor and will feature two parallel tunnels- one for vehicular traffic and one fort rain traffic. Germany will cover 3.1 billion in costs for rail tracks and for widening the highway. According to the court, the contract cannot be rescinded.
With the green light to replace the Fehmarn Bridge on the south end of the island, the plan to complete the entire stretch of the Motorway 1 from Hamburg to Copenhagen will be realized. Currently, only a 15 kilometer stretch of non-freeway route exists between Oldenburg on the main land and Puttgarden on the island, minus the ferry route, all of it is two-lanes with only one exit and one half-exit going to Burg, the largest community on Fehmarn Island.
Once a one-track route, the construction of the tunnel on both ends of Fehmarn Island will allow for the expansion of the rail line between Lübeck and Fehmarn to allow for two tracks to run along the Baltic Sea coast. Currently, only the line between Lübeck and Hamburg as well as from Ringsted to Copenhagen are electrified; the rest of the route- Ringsted to Rodby and Lübeck to Fehmarn require diesel locomotives to operate. Since December 2019, no train ferries between Puttgarden and Rodby have operated resulting in long-distance trains to detour via Neumünster, Flensburg, Pattburg and Kolding (Denmark), while regional trains end in Burg on Fehmarn Island. It is hoped that regional trains will use the new route and the route to Fehmarn will remain in use.
The entire project, with tunnels connecting Fehmarn with Denmark and the German mainland, a motorway with four lanes and rail lines to accommodate regional and long-distance train services is expected to be completed by 2029. Already Denmark has marched ahead with its end of the tunnel. With Leipzig’s ruling, construction will begin on the German side for the Belt Tunnel project. It is hoped that noise barriers and mitigation of flora and fauna will be considered during this venture, considered the most expensive in Europe as of yet.
If there is one consolation, the Fehmarn Bridge, connecting the island with the German mainland, will remain as is, once the German tunnel is completed. Built in 1963, the world’s first basket weave tied arch bridge was rehabilitated in 2019 with the plan of leaving it open for local traffic, including cyclists and pedestrians. It’s considered not only the icon for Fehmarn and for the state of Schleswig-Holstein, but also for bridge engineering, as it’s being used as a model for other bridges of its kind that are either being built or will be built in the near future. This includes the Levansau Bridge near Kiel, spanning the Baltic-North Sea Canal. The replacement is scheduled to be built come 2021.