Deflection Dams May Be Built to Divert Lava from Roadway

Meradalir eruption, August 2022

The Department of Civil Protection will likely build deflecting dams to prevent lava from flowing onto Rte. 427, RÚV reports. Also called Suðurstrandavegur, this road runs along the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula between the municipalities of Grindavík and Ölfus.

Lava has yet to start flowing out of the Meradalir valley, but scientists say it’s just a matter of time. At time of writing, the lava around the low-lying mountain pass called Meradalaskarð had reached a height of eight metres [26 ft]. Should it rise a mere metre or so higher, however, it will overflow the valley. On Wednesday, scientists estimated that this could happen over the course of a few hours, but so far, the lava level has been rising slower than anticipated.

See Also: Lava Could Reach Reykjanes Roadway If It Rises Any Higher

“The lava’s been flowing in other directions since we got this tongue, which has actually reached the pass where it can start to flow out of Meradalir,” explained Kristín Jónsdóttir, the Met Office’s team leader for natural disasters. “And, of course, the way the lava flows is random. Tongues are breaking off from the lake of lava and what we saw yesterday was that the lava was mostly flowing in the immediate vicinity of the crater, mostly to the west and the north.”

But currently, it isn’t possible for scientists to say whether the lava will overflow the valley “tomorrow or in a week,” said Kristín.

Plan to divert lava from fibre optic cables, important infrastructure

Diversion dams are only temporary measures, added Björn Oddsson, a geophysicist with Civil Protection. But experiments erecting these barriers in the path of oncoming lava were successful last year and as such, Björn expects that “the engineers and designers who are working on this will make use of [this experience] and will resort to [diversion dams] if the lava starts to flow toward Suðurstrandavegur or fibre optic cable or other things we want to divert it from.”

Lava Could Reach Reykjanes Roadway If It Rises Any Higher

Meradalir eruption, August 2022

It’s possible that lava from the ongoing eruption in Meradalir could flow eastward in the next 24 hours, RÚV reports. Professor of Geophysics Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson says that if this were to happen, the lava would have a direct path to Rte. 427. Also called Suðurstrandavegur, this road runs along the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula between the municipalities of Grindavík and Ölfus.

Magnús Tumi notes that the lava hasn’t yet started flowing out of Meradalir. “However, in the last two days, the lava by the mountain pass, which is the lowest point out of the valley to the east, has risen seven to eight metres [23-26 feet]. And it will only take maybe a metre or so for it to overflow. So if the situation continues like this, the lava will overflow the valley soon.”

It’s difficult to say if the lava would actually reach Suðurstrandavegur, says Magnús Tumi. “But in order to be able to estimate any sort of timeline, it’s vital that we be able to take new measurements of the lava volume and thereby the flow.” Unfortunately, ongoing weather conditions since Thursday have prevented scientists from taking these critical measurements.

Government Approves Measures to Counteract Inflation, Overheating Economy

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson

In lieu of raising interest rates, the government will be implementing various measures intended to counteract inflation and an overheating economy as well as reducing the treasury deficit. Vísir reports that among the changes proposed by Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson are a reduction to discounts on alcohol and tobacco products sold in airport Duty Free stores and the introduction of tariffs that will offset the current lack of revenue from vehicle and fuel taxation.

The scope of the proposed measures is roughly 0.7% of the GDP, or ISK 26 billion [$1.98 million; €1.88 million]. This amount should hopefully put the treasury in good stead to decrease the deficit without needing to increase interest rates. The proposals will be elaborated in full in the 2023 budget proposal.

Measures intended to increase the state’s revenue

One of the biggest changes is the introduction of tariffs that are meant to offset revenue that the government has lost from vehicle and fuel taxation. This drop in revenue is attributed in part to an increase in environmentally friendly cars. As more environmentally friendly cars become the norm, it is expected that the revenue streams that the government used to enjoy from gasoline and vehicle taxes will continue to decline. As such, a simpler and more efficient revenue collection system is being developed, which corresponds to the need for continued governmental expenditure on new construction, maintenance, and operation of Icelandic roadways.

Another major change will be a reduction in the tax discount on alcohol and tobacco products in Duty Free stores. Both are currently tax-free (in specific, limited quantities) when purchased, for instance, at the Keflavík airport upon entering or exiting the country. There will be a new diversion airport fee and the structure and scope of aquaculture-related VAT will be under review as well.

Measures intended to cut state costs

Current reductions of state-related travel expenses are to be made permanent. The leeway that exists for expenditures in the current budget will be suspended and leeway for general expenditures in policy-related areas will be almost cut in half. There will also be a reduction in contributions to political organizations.

Record Traffic on Ring Road in July

Traffic in Iceland’s capital area decreased by more than 3% last month while traffic on the Ring Road increased by around 6% and has never been heavier in any July on record. This data from the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration indicates that an unusually high number of capital area residents travelled to the countryside last month. July traffic in the capital area has not been lighter since 2016.

Despite lower numbers of foreign tourists as compared to pre-pandemic figures, a record amount of traffic was recorded on Iceland’s Ring Road in July. Traffic was 2.3% higher in July 2021 than in July 2019, when the previous record for that month was set. The biggest increase was recorded in East Iceland, where counters recorded a 23% rise in vehicle numbers.

Traffic has increased 6.4% in the first half of 2021 as compared to the same period in 2020. It is, however, still 3% lighter than it was during the same period in 2019. Looking at data for the month of July 2021 alone, there was less traffic on all days of the week as compared to July 2020, except on Fridays, which showed a 1.4% increase in traffic. Fridays show the heaviest traffic while Sundays show the lightest.

The Road and Coastal Administration projects an 8.5% increase in traffic by the end of the year as compared to 2020. If that figure proves correct, traffic will still be 2.5% lighter than in 2019.

Roads to Landmannalaugar Might Open Early

If conditions are deemed to be safe, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration hopes to open the roads to the Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve in the highlands on Saturday, Vísir reports. This would be the earliest that the roads have opened in the last five years.

From 2014 to 2018, the earliest that the Landmannalaugar roads were opened was June 18 and the latest, July 1. Road Administration employees are currently checking conditions to see if it will be safe to open the roads on Saturday.

Visitors should keep in mind that Landmannalaugar can only be reached by 4×4 jeeps along the Fjallabaksleið nyrðri (F208) or Dómadalsleið (F225) roads. Road conditions and openings can be checked on the Road Administration website here.

Three Airlifted to Hospital After Car Accident on South Coast

A collision involving two vehicles on Sudurlandsvegur in South Iceland ended with three people being transported to the hospital by helicopter and a fourth sustaining less serious injuries, RÚV reports.

All four of the accident victims are foreign citizens, although their nationalities were not disclosed by police. There were two passengers in each vehicle. According to the Suðurland police, the driver of one of the cars lost control on an icy patch of road at around 6 pm on Thursday night, and the cars collided. The vehicles crashed at high speed, flipping one of them. One of them was so damaged that two of the passengers had to be cut from wreckage.

Police closed the road between Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur just after 7 pm while an initial investigation was made, and it was not reopened to traffic until almost 10 pm.

Serious traffic accidents have become unfortunately common in Iceland of late, and many such incidents occur in heavily trafficked South Iceland. In early January, three British citizens lost their lives when a car when a car drove off the bridge over Núpsvötn on the south coast. In terms of fatalities, this was one of the worst car accidents in Icelandic history.

In the middle of the month, a thirteen-year-old was hit by a car when walking to school. The victim did not sustain any serious injuries, but parents and concerned locals took up informal crossing guard duty after the event.

Then, at the end of January, a rental car collided with a school bus on a single-lane bridge on the road between the two popular tourist attractions, Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir. Luckily, no people were injured in the crash, but both vehicles were totaled.

At time of writing, there was no report on the condition of Thursday’s accident victims.

Director of Road Administration in Favour of Tolls

Route 1 Iceland

Bergþóra Þorkelsdóttir, Director of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, says she’s in favour of introducing tolls on roads throughout Iceland, RÚV reports. “…[I]t’s just my personal opinion,” she remarked in an interview on a morning radio program, “[but] I have a hard time seeing how a 350,000-person population in a country this big would ever be able to build up the [road] system without taking in any kind of funds, like road tolls or something of that nature, such that our guests are participating in the financing of it in some way.”

The idea to implement widespread road tolls was part of a bill introduced to parliament in December. Developed by the Parliamentary Environmental and Communications Committee in close consultation with Minister of Transportation Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, the planned tolls are meant to offset a loss of income from gas and diesel taxes, which are expected to fall rapidly over the next few years due to the government’s environmental action plan. The tolls would not be collected via booths; rather, cameras installed at specific toll points along the road would record license plate numbers and charge drivers electronically. The hope is that the camera tolls would not disrupt the flow of traffic.

“The additional stress that’s on the system comes from people who come here and want to use it,” said Bergþóra. “And I really think that these tourists who want to come here are prepared to pay some kind of fee for using the country’s infrastructure.”

Road to Látrabjarg in Poor Condition

The gravel road which leads to the popular travel destination Látrabjarg is in poor condition after the winter, Bæjarins Besta reports. The 440 metre high Látrabjarg is the westernmost point of Iceland. Home to millions of birds, it is a popular bird watching destination and receives high visitor numbers in the summertime. The cliff was chosen as one of the top 10 ocean viewing spots in the world by National Geographic.

Látrabjarg is situated on the southern part of the Icelandic Westfjords, and the road (road 612 – Örlygshafnarvegur) towards the cliff is plagued by deep holes which can damage vehicles passing through. The photographer Marino Thorlacius shed light on the issue with photos and videos of the road’s condition. “The The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration and Vesturbyggð don’t seem to understand that Látrabjarg and Rauðisandur are the places that attract people to the southern part of the Westfjords. The road access tarnishes the image of the area and is completely unacceptable.”, Marino commented. “Everyone knows that these are rural roads and their condition isn’t a 100% percent, but it’s not acceptable that they’re at 20% condition in the high season when the traffic is at its highest point”, Marino continued. He criticized the The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration for its part in it, and the fact that they have focused on other roads and areas.

Travellers are advised to show caution while driving the road, which is still deemed passable. Further information can be reached by phone (1777) and at www.road.is.