Hellisheiði Closed After First Snowfall of the Year

winter weather iceland

After the first snowfall of the year, Hellisheiði, the section of road connecting the capital region to the South Coast, has been closed.

Several weather warnings were in effect through the night, and much of West, Southwest, and South Iceland are still under a yellow warning. Travellers can expect high winds, and unnecessary travel is to be avoided.

Expect Closures

G. Pétur Matthíasson, a spokesperson for the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, stated to RÚV: “This is the first weather like this here in the southwest of the country, where most of the traffic is. So, the conditions on Hellisheiði and Þrengsli [an alternate route to the South Coast] are not very good, which is why Hellisheiði has been closed due to the weather, and Þrengsli is at an uncertain stage.”

There are also reports of several stranded cars and drivers have encountered difficulties this morning due to severe conditions in the area. “This morning on Hellisheiði, there were quite a few cars that still had summer tires. The conditions were such that it’s not enough,” says G. Pétur stated to RÚV.

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration will reassess the situation throughout the day. Hellisheiði will be reopened as soon as possible.

There was widespread snow in the countryside this morning, including in areas of the capital region.

Get the latest information on weather conditions at the Met Office. Live information on travel conditions and road closures can be viewed at the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s travel website.

Icelandic Roads Least Lethal Worldwide

Route 1 Iceland

German car subscription service, FINN, has recently rated Iceland the number 1 nation “where you are least likely to die on the road.”

The survey included OECD member states and considered such factors as road deaths per 100,000, overall road quality, speed limits, traffic volume and levels, and percentages of alcohol-related road deaths.

Iceland came in first place for “least likely to die on the road,” with only 2.05 road death per 100,000. Peer nation Norway came in second place, at 2.12, followed by Switzerland in third, with 2.25.

The survey stated: “Despite poor weather conditions and many unpaved roads, Icelandic drivers are some of the least likely in the world to face fatalities on the road. Iceland is a hub for tourism, consequently, many popular roads around the golden circle and Reykjavik are tarmacked and well-maintained compared to the sparsely populated centre of the country which is connected by a network of gravel roads.”

Notably, this category was distinct from “safest roads,” which took more factors into account, such as those mentioned above. The Netherlands placed first in the category, followed by Norway, and a third-place tie between Sweden and Estonia. Iceland was rated 8th for overall road safety.

Argentina had the honour of taking first place for “most dangerous roads,” whereas Saudia Arabia placed first for “countries where you are most likely to die on the road.”

Progress Made on New Þorskafjörður Bridge

westfjords bridge

Significant progress has been made on the new Þorskafjörður bridge since construction began on the project some two years ago. The bridge is part of the Vestfjarðarvegur, which will better connect many communities in this remote region of Iceland.

“We currently have about fifteen people here. Eight excavators, two bulldozers, a dump truck. You name it, whatever is needed. This is a massive project. For example, with the bridge itself, about four thousand cubic meters of concrete were used. 400 tons of steel, so it’s quite significant,” stated project manager Einar Valur Valgarðsson to RÚV.

Einar believes it’s safe to say that the project is nearing completion.

“Now we’re just continuing to connect the western side and finish the filling work,” he continued. “We’re also breaking up rocks.”

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The bridge will be important to the region, as it will shorten the route through Þorskafjörður by some 22 km [13 mi].

It will also increase access to the Barðaströnd region, one of Iceland’s most remote regions. This region is largely dependent on the ferry Baldur which sails across Breiðafjörður. However, the ferry has had technical difficulties in recent years.

The completed bridge will be 260 m in length and will allow travellers to drive through the southern Westfjords on an entirely paved road.

The Þorskafjörður project began in 2021 and has cost roughly ISK 2 billion [$14 million; €13 million]. The project is due for completion in July 2024, but according to project manager Einar, it could well be done before that.

 

Busy Weekend for ICE-SAR on Hellisheiði Pass

winter weather iceland

ICE-SAR was busy until late into the evening on Hellisheiði pass this past Sunday. Severe weather left several people trapped in their cars after a significant traffic accident, which reportedly involved up to ten vehicles.

Hellisheiði is the mountainous pass between South Iceland and the Reykjanes peninsula and can present travellers with very difficult conditions during the winter.

Of the individuals involved in the traffic accident, several were transported to the emergency room in Reykjavík, though none were reported as seriously injured. In addition to assisting potentially injured drivers and removing damaged cars from the road, ICE-SAR was also busy evacuating individuals from their vehicles and bringing them back to town.

According to a representative from ICE-SAR, approximately 150 people were assisted yesterday.

Members of ICE-SAR from throughout the region were present, including from Selfoss, Hveragerði, Reykjavík, and Þorlákshöfn.

Hellisheiði pass was closed for much of yesterday due to the weather, but is currently open at the time of writing. Travellers are advised to check conditions and heed weather warnings when driving in Iceland.

This winter has been noteworthy for the number of weather warnings issued. While 2020 saw the most weather warnings in total issued, the winter of 2022 saw a record number of orange and red warnings. In total, 84 of these extreme weather warnings were issued.

 

Reykjavík City Lowers Speed Limit on More than 150 Streets

Aerial view of Reykjavík city traffic during winter

The 50 km/h speed limit common on many Reykjavík city streets will soon be a thing of the past, as speed limits throughout the city are to be lowered.

New speed limits will be either 30 or 40 km/h on many roads throughout the capital region.

See also: Reykjavík to Cap Speed Limits

The changes which are to be implemented were agreed upon in April of this year. However, the changes are expected to take much of the coming year, so Reykjavík motorists will have some time to adjust.

Notably, however, the changes will not apply to roads that are operated by authorities other than Reykjavík city. Many major arterial roads, such as Sæbraut, Kringlumýrarbraut, Miklabraut, Hringbraut, and Reykjanesbraut are administered by the Icelandic Road Administration, and will not be affected by the new, lower, limits.

The goal of the reduced speed limits is to promote road safety within the city.

For a complete overview of the affected streets, see RÚV.

The Road to Borgarfjörður Eystri Now Paved

Borgarfjörður eystri east iceland

Residents of Borgarfjörður Eystri, a village in East Iceland, can now drive on paved roads all the way to Egilsstaðir.

The last section of paved road was completed earlier this month, a 15 km [9.3 mi] stretch near the town of Eiðar was finally paved.

Read more: Paving the Way to the Last Town in East Iceland

Héraðsverk, the contractor responsible for finishing the road project, reports that it was difficult going. The final section required significant blasting to clear the way. Now, however, a straight and wide road runs where there was previously a winding, gravel road with potholes.

The region has seen significant improvements in infrastructure in the last years, with a new road recently finished near Njarðvík. Residents also protested in 2018 by paving sections of road themselves to highlight inaction on behalf of the municipality.

Fragile Hope: How a programme to revive struggling villages in rural Iceland is rewiring collective mindset

 

With the recent improvements, all towns in the Fljótsdalshérað municipality are now connected via paved roads, a major milestone for this remote region of Iceland.

Eyþór Stefánsson, a resident of Borgarfjörður Eystri and representative in Múlaþing’s local council, is quoted as saying: “It’s amazing what’s happened in such a short time. We set off to fight to get sections of landslide-prone roads paved, but then this all started to happen incredibly fast.  We had hoped to improved the road from Eiðar but it turned out much better than we reckoned. They’ve taken away the blind rises, so now it’s a properly straight and wide road, practically a motorway.”

Road Administration Launches New Website for Travellers

www.umferdin.is

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration launched a new website yesterday. The new website will offer more detailed information on road and weather conditions.

More advanced, more accessible, more detailed

Yesterday morning, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (IRCA) held a meeting to introduce its new website: www.umferdin.is.

According to a press release from IRCA, this new website – which will replace the previous road-conditions map on the administration’s site (www.road.is) – is “more advanced, more accessible (especially on smart devices), and will offer greater opportunities for development going forward.” The map is also zoomable, and the design of the website has been modernised.

Read More: When and why did Icelanders start driving on the right side of the road?

According to IRCA, www.umferdin.is will offer more detailed information on driving and road conditions. This information is recorded by the Road Administration’s staff and contractors around the country. Between October and April 30, information on the website is updated every day from 7 AM to 10 PM. Between May 1 to September 30, information on the website is updated every day from 8 AM to 4 PM.

Weather and traffic data that appear on the site are gathered by IRCA’s weather stations and other measuring devices around the national road network, as well as by a number of the Icelandic MET Office’s weather stations. The base map’s overlays originate from an open database at Landmælingar Íslands.

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.”

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.

Hellisheiði Road Closed Tomorrow

Route One over Hellisheiði heath.

A section of Route 1 between Reykjavík and Hveragerði will be closed tomorrow in both directions for paving, RÚV reports. The road over Hellisheiði will be closed from 9.00am to 8.00pm tomorrow for the paving of its easternmost section. Traffic will be directed to detour via Þrengslavegur (Route 39).

The road was initially scheduled for paving today but the work has been delayed due to weather.