In a country with such rugged geography, it would be rare if there were no tunnels in Iceland. Today we tell you how tunnels work in Iceland and, of course, if you must pay to use them.
If you have a look at a map of Iceland, you’ll notice that its coastlines are not so straight. The land is broken up by many fjords, and some outcrops stretch particularly far. As well as that, Iceland is home to many large hills and mountains. These natural phenomena increase journey times significantly for drivers; since the highways hug the coastline, you have to drive around all of these mountains and fjords. Towns that are not so far apart as the crow flies are hours apart to drive between. As incredible as driving around Iceland is, for the locals who want to venture to other parts of the country it can be a big inconvenience. So, they came up with a solution; tunnels.
At the moment, Iceland has eleven open road tunnels. One of the best known is the Hvalfjörður tunnel; it is almost 6km long and reaches a depth of 165 meters (541 feet) below sea level. This tunnel opened in 1998, and it’s the only tunnel in Iceland that was financed and built privately. A toll was previously charged to use it, but this was removed in September 2018, so it is now toll-free. The journey time to pass the fjord is now about six times less than before, and the need for a ferry between the two sides has been removed.
Another tunnel is the Vaðlaheiðargöng, which cuts through the side of a mountain. This detour has cut the distance between Akureyri and Húsavík by 16 km, shortening the ring road (Route 1). It’s a fairly recent completion, opened at the end of 2018. It is one of Iceland’s longest, at 7,400m. However, it isn’t free to use.
Currently, Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel is the only place in Iceland for which you have to pay to use. It costs ISK1,500 for standard passenger vehicles, and more for larger vehicles. However, these prices only apply if you have registered to use the tunnel at least three hours in advance.
You cannot pay the toll fee at the location. You must register online with your license plate number and credit card information, at https://www.veggjald.is/ (the website is available in both Icelandic and English). With this registration, the toll will be charged to your card automatically when you drive through the tunnel. Again, this is providing you have done so at least three hours before entering. If you do not register on the website at least three hours in advance, a bill will be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle for ISK 2,500. Of course, for those in a rental car, the bill will be sent to therental car company in Iceland. They will then charge the credit card you registered with them when you collected the car. Save yourself ISK 1,000 and register in advance.
Some of the tunnels in Iceland have only one lane passing through them, such as Strákagöng in the north-west. Tunnels such as this have passing places spread throughout. If you come across oncoming traffic and the passing place is on your side (on the right) you are obligated to pull in and let them pass. Of course, this means that you should be driving slowly and carefully in single-lane tunnels. You want to ensure that you will have plenty of time to stop and move aside for oncoming traffic. There are also some single-lane bridges in Iceland, such as along Route 1 (the ring road). Whichever car is closest to the bridge has the right of away. So, again, approach single-lane bridges slowly and cautiously.
There are other considerations that need to be kept in mind when taking a road trip around Iceland. It’s important to be aware that there may be sheep on the road. Keep an eye out for them and drive slowly when you come across a herd. One may dart across the road suddenly; the Icelanders haven’t yet managed to teach them how to cross roads safely.
Weather, of course, is always a factor when driving, and this is particularly relevant for Iceland. The country is renowned for its fast-changing, unpredictable weather. In winter, heavy snowstorms and icy roads add many hazards, so make sure your car is fitted with winter tires. Have some de-icer spray and a scraper on board as well. At all times of the year, the country can be hit with extremely strong winds. In these cases, it’s crucial to listen to weather warnings and only drive when it is safe to do so. And for those planning on hiking, since the weather can change so suddenly and turn cold, a good rule to follow is A.B.C- Always Bring Coats.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.