The Swedes call it Öresundsbron, the Danes prefer Øresundsbroen. And around the world many simply know it as ‘The Bridge’ after the multi award-winning Nordic Noir drama of the same name, which has been screened in more than 100 countries.
As an engineering miracle, architectural wonder and brooding backdrop, one thing is certain: the bridge has not gone unnoticed since it officially opened 19 years ago this month to enhance communication and improve economic and cultural collaborations between Denmark and Sweden.
Some 16 km in length, it is one of the longest combined road and rail bridges in Europe, while the bridge itself stretches for 7.845 km, before plunging into an underwater tunnel just over 3.5 km long.
This summer will mark 20 years since its completion – on 14 August 1999 Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden met midway across to mark the occasion, and then on 12 June 2000, some 79,871 runners took part in a half-marathon, two and half a weeks before it officially opened on July 1. Due to the death of nine people at a Pearl Jam performance at the Roskilde Festival the day before, the ceremony opened with a minute’s silence.
The bridge spans the relatively narrow Øresund Strait, which for many years was known as the ‘Gateway to Baltic’ – a point of strategic importance that countries have been ready to go to war over. The dual objectives of Britain’s 1807 bombardment of Copenhagen were to take control of the strait and take the Danes out of the Napoleonic War.
Control of the waterway has historically yielded a hefty return from the lucrative trade routes to the east, and today it continues to be one of the busiest shipping lanes in Europe.
The Øresund also has a great symbolic significance – a little like the UK’s English Channel. In the 19th century, it was the departure point for many Danish emigrants as they sailed away to a new life in America; in the early 1900s, Denmark’s first ever international plane departure made a groundbreaking 15-minute flight over the waterway before landing safely in Sweden; and in October 1943, crossing it was the difference between life and death for many Danish Jews fleeing the Nazis.
So it was no surprise when a proposal to build a link was first suggested in 1936, and when serious plans began to emerge after World War II, even though doubts over raising the necessary funds kept the plans on the drawing board.
The talks continued for the next 60 years, and finally in 1991 the project acquired the go-ahead from both governments after a scheme was proposed to incorporate the private sector.
On schedule, no cakewalk
The construction of the link, which was designed by the Danish engineering firm COWI and cost 19.6 billion kroner, started in 1995. Four years later, and three months ahead of schedule – please take note Metro City Ring – it was finished. In the year following its opening, traffic between the two countries increased by 61 percent.
Nevertheless, its construction was far from simple, and it faced many technical obstructions – particularly at the Danish end.
With Copenhagen Airport so close, it was important the height of the bridge never posed a threat to planes passing by. But a low bridge would similarly impede maritime traffic, so it was decided to build a tunnel.
To enable this, a manmade island, Peberholm, was created, where the car and train traffic emerged from the tunnel to then be split between the upper and lower decks of the bridge.
Additionally, 16 unexploded WW II bombs were discovered on the seabed during the construction.
Boost to both countries
The bridge has enabled the Øresund Region, which recently adopted the name Greater Copenhagen and stretches nearly as far as Gothenburg, to take on a much clearer identity as one of Scandinavia’s biggest, most densely populated metropolitan regions.
Comprising Copenhagen and Malmö as well as vast areas either side of the bridge, it continues to steadily grow and today has a population of almost 4 million.
Commuters between Denmark and Sweden have benefited as the travelling time between the two main cities has been reduced to only half an hour by train. Previously a ferry from Helsingør to Helsingborg was necessary.
The bridge has properly connected the Øresund region, providing its population with many more opportunities to travel, work and study.
While the vast majority of commuters come from Sweden, the bridge also makes it easier for Danish residents to network with their Swedish counterparts, and closer ties have been established between businesses and educational institutions.
Sure beats the ferry
Noel West from Malmö regularly commutes across the bridge by road, and he is not alone. In 2017, some 7 million vehicles passed over – the highest number since it opened.
“Travelling by car over the bridge is much faster and easier, and it is also beautiful,” enthused West. “You are on the top of the bridge, in the middle of a sea. The sight is just marvelous.”
Christine Wei, a student from Aarhus, prefers to use the train when she travels to Sweden. In total, 14,000 commuters tend to use the route every day, despite the identity checks that have lengthened the journey time.
“It takes around half an hour and doesn’t cost much,” she said. “It isn’t expensive considering the fact that I travelled from one country to another. The train ride was really good. I could see the sea between Denmark and Sweden. It’s beautiful!”
Prior to the bridge opening, around 6,000 people a day commuted by ferry.
Nearly paid for itself
Øresundsbro Konsortiet, the Danish-Swedish organisation that owns and runs the bridge, predicts the bridge will have paid for itself by 2023 – four years ahead of the original estimate.
This isn’t that surprising when you consider that a single trip by road in a normal car costs you 54 euros, but much more in a longer vehicle. Motorcyclists are charged 32 euros.
Discounts are offered if you purchase the tickets online, and regular travellers can get a huge discount with an annual pass.
Most people in the capital region of Denmark and southern Sweden would agree it is a price worth paying, although it goes without saying that they’ll be hopeful of a substantial reduction in price once the bridge is free of debt!