A thousand kilometre round trip to visit neighbours in Westfjords winter

The chairman of the Ísafjarðarbær town council has joined calls for the Icelandic government to improve the Westfjords region’s “terrible” transport infrastructure as a matter of urgency.

The chairman says transport in the region is terrible and that the national government can no longer hide behind the economic crisis as an excuse for breaking its promises to improve infrastructure. He points to the example of staff members at an aquaculture hatchery who need to drive over a thousand kilometres during the winter between two fjords which are joined by just 30km of power cables, Vísir.is reports.

Following the road building campaign of recent years the town of Ísafjörður now has an acceptable road connection to Reykjavík along the Ísafjarðardjúp fjord, the chairman says. The challenge for the coming years must now be to connect the towns in the south of the Westfjords to the ring road. There remains an unacceptable gap in the local road network which leaves Ísafjörður in the north and Patreksfjörður in the south completely cut off from each other.

There are the Dynjandisheiði and Hrafnseyrarheiði unpaved mountain roads between north and south which have more or less been closed since November – and totally closed since the 12th december. There are no plans to plough the snow off the road until at least the 20th March, according to the Icelandic roads administration.

The chairman of the town council in Ísafjörður, Eiríkur Finnur Greipsson, says that talk of economic stimulation for the Westfjords is just hot air without transport infrastructure improvements and that the region will not overcome its ongoing difficulties without better infrastructure.

As well as being chairman, Eiríkur is also the finance officer of Dýrfiskur ehf., a company which has everything to gain from better roads. Dýrfiskur has a fish hatchery in Tálknafjörður, sea cages in Dýrafjörður fjord and a processing plant in the village of Flateyri. The summertime road between Tálknafjörður and Þingeyri (on the shores of Dýrafjörður) is 115km — but in the winter with the mountain roads closed, as they have been for the last three months, staff have needed to drive all along Barðarstrandarsýsla, over Þröskuldar, past the village of Hólmavík, over Steingrímsfjarðarheiði, along Ísafjarðardjúp to Ísafjörður, and on through a tunnel past Flateyri and around Dýrafjörður to Þingeyri. That is 519km each way and over 1,000km there and home again.

Eiríkur says that needing to send staff over a thousand kilometres for a journey that should take a couple of hours is a harmful situation for the development of the region’s fragile economy.

The government’s newly-released long-term plan does not include opening a year-round road connecting north and south Westfjords in the next decade. “They have gone back on a promise. And they can’t hide behind the economic crisis,” Eiríkur claims – adding that the region’s transport infrastructure is not suitable for modern society.

The below graphic shows the difference in the two distances. It is taken from a report on Stöð 2 television yesterday evening (click to enlarge slightly):