Shetland Island Council’s (SIC) finance chief, Graham Johnston, has said plans for a 6.3km long sub-sea drill and blast tunnel linking Scotland’s Island of Whalsay to Shetland will be scrapped unless the current US$194M costs can be ‘significantly reduced’ or funding from an outside source becomes available.
In a report to be presented at an SIC Infrastructure Committee meeting tomorrow, Mr Johnston says that councilors should “note that in present circumstances the tunnel option is not affordable and it does not represent best value,” and that they should, “reaffirm the intention of pursuing the best value option for the continuation of the ferry service as the transport link to Whalsay”.
A separate member/office working group was set up last week with the task of investigating alternative or external funding models for the tunnel project, and Johnston has conceded that their findings could have a serious impact on whether it is constructed or not.
Original cost estimates put the tunnel’s construction at US$50M, but following talks with Norwegian tunnelling consultants, costs of almost US$100M were seen as more realistic, with US$15,800 per meter being calculated as a basic construction outlay. Access road construction and project development costs would add a further US£14M, whilst including an optimum bias costing would take the tally to nearer US$194M. Johnson has argued that the tunnel will only be built if this number can be reduced to US$66M, or foreign investments of US$43M are found.
Whalsay Island has been debating the link for months as inhabitants argue over the increased ferry capacity or tunnel options. The current ferry service is woefully inadequate and has some five years left in service. The tunnel’s construction period has been estimated at a minimum six years.
The council has until 30 June to decide on Whalsay’s future transport links.