While there are no written records of Romans protesting against aqueducts, we can be almost certain that construction would have been accompanied by rumblings about the exorbitant cost, detrimental effects on the natural environment, or superfluous nature of the works. In more recent history, protest is well documented. The expansion of the railways in the mid-nineteenth century, for instance, met with fierce opposition. Poet William Wordsworth even wrote a sonnet to protest against the Kendal and Windermere Railway: “Is then no nook of English ground secure / From rash assault?” Today, this branch line is considered one of the most picturesque in Britain. Further north, the world-famous Forth Bridge very nearly wasn’t built. After decades of discussion about whether a bridge across the Firth of Forth was feasible, or even desirable, construction finally started in 1878—just as, 30 miles away, a bridge across the Firth of Tay designed by the same engineer was opened. Barely 18 months later, it collapsed in high winds, taking a train full of passengers to a watery grave. Work on the Forth Bridge was halted immediately and would not begin again until 1883. Completed in 1889 with a striking new cantilever design, the Forth Bridge went on to become a symbol for Scotland and remains a crucial transport link, carrying up to 200 trains a day.
SWEDEN TO DENMARK OVER THE ÖRESUND
Just over a century later, construction on another iconic crossing in stormy northern European waters, the Öresund Bridge, ran far more smoothly. Begun in 1995, the link between the Danish capital Copenhagen and Sweden’s third city Malmö was completed three months ahead of schedule and opened in 2000. HOCHTIEF was part of the four-company Sundlink consortium which built the bridge-tunnel. It is easy to forget, however, that a fixed link had been approved by the two countries in 1973, only to be shelved in 1978 due to financial and environmental concerns. It wasn’t until 1991 that plans for what is now the longest combined road-and-rail bridge in Europe were finally given the go-ahead. And even after the crossing opened, doubts remained.
Although traffic between Denmark and Sweden rose by 61 percent in the first year, the figure was below expectations. From 2005 onwards, however, use rose steeply as inhabitants of Copenhagen and Malmö began to exploit the new opportunities created by the connection. Families exasperated by the high cost of property in and around the Danish capital began to buy across the water in southern Sweden, where homes, cars, and childcare were cheaper.
This price differential was in no small part due to the economic difficulties which had beset Malmö following the decline of heavy industry in the 1980s; its residents now began to expand their horizons to the dynamic Copenhagen jobs market. Crossborder commuting became standard, especially after a new tunnel through central Malmö integrating rail traffic into the Swedish network opened in 2010, cutting train journey times between the cities to around half an hour. By 2015, almost 100,000 people were crossing the bridge daily—around 80 percent more than in 2001. After decades of decline, Malmö’s population had risen from just under 250,000 in 2005 to over 300,000. What is more, geographically, it had been transformed from a peripheral location on the southern tip of Sweden to the central point on a trunk route through Denmark to northern Germany and beyond. This had a corresponding effect on economic activity as international corporates such as Mercedes and IBM opened regional headquarters in the city and the labor market expanded, with the total number of jobs in the city rising by 30 percent to 120,000 between 2000 and 2015.
SWEDEN TO SICILY ACROSS THE SAALE AND UNDER THE SWISS ALPS
Besides its immediate economic impact, the Öresund crossing has had a broader effect on infrastructure planning in Europe: talk of a Malmö-Palermo Corridor no longer seems grandiloquent or unrealistic. Indeed, all that is missing from a continuous road-and-rail connection between the Scandinavian and Sicilian capitals is a bridge across the Strait of Messina in Italy. Heading south from Sweden through Denmark and into Germany, the route forks at Hamburg, with one line heading south through Lower Saxony and another via Berlin. This latter opened in 2015 after the completion of a rail link putting the German capital just four hours away from Munich (previously six). The centerpiece of the high-speed line is the 6,465-meter-long Saale-Elster viaduct, the longest bridge in Germany—and the longest mainline rail bridge in Europe with a unique 2,000-meter flying junction on the bridge itself to allow trains to split off to Halle at up to 300 kilometers per hour. HOCHTIEF was part of a three-company consortium contracted by Deutsche Bahn.
Further south, the route passes under the Alps—and, since 2016, can use the 57-kilometer Gotthard Base Tunnel, the longest and deepest traffic tunnel in the world, to cut journey times between Zürich and Milan by a full hour. HOCHTIEF joined with four partners to build around 30 kilometers of the tunnel between 2011 and 2016. Three projects at varying stages of advancement are envisaged by the European Commission’s Trans-European Transport Network to fully develop the Malmö-Palermo link: the finished Scandinavian-Mediterranean Core Network Corridor is planned to run under the Fehmarn Belt, shortening Copenhagen to Hamburg (planning permission due in 2020), before continuing under the Austrian Alps using the Brenner Base Tunnel (under construction). Potentially, a bridge to Sicily at the Strait of Messina—a tantalizingly narrow stretch of water only half the breadth of the Öresund—could be a crowning achievement.
HAMBURG AND PERTH, WHARVES AND QUAYS
None of these projects—built or planned—is uncontested: environmentalists are critical of the Fehmarn link, while the Brenner Base Tunnel, although under construction, is not yet fully funded. Yet despite the controversy surrounding them, there are often strong arguments for transport links: concern for the environment can be countered if cars are taken off the road; reduced journey times are tempting to many otherwise skeptical citizens.
Often, it is regeneration projects in urban areas which are, initially, a much harder sell. From the outset, the Elbe Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg’s redeveloped dockland quarter, HafenCity, was beset by harsh criticism and questions about its value. Yet on completion, Hamburgers instantly fell in love with their “Elphi”, which has been more or less continuously sold out since opening in January 2017. HOCHTIEF coordinated and carried out its construction. The graceful curves of its roof and its waterside location have given it instant landmark status alongside the city’s traditional postcard motifs; worldwide media reports led to a sharp increase in visitors from the USA, up almost 15 percent year on year in 2017, and contributed to a general rise in overnight stays of 3.7 percent.
On the other side of the world, there were even demonstrations against plans for the 440 million Australian dollars Elizabeth Quay waterfront development in Perth, Western Australia. When it opened in January 2016, however, the finished Elizabeth Quay quickly won over Perth residents. CPB Contractors, which belongs to the Australian HOCHTIEF company CIMIC, and Broad Construction completed the 100,000-square-meter site in four years. The new development has brought water closer to the center of the city through a new inlet, creating an exciting wharf-style ensemble crowned with a distinctive figure-of-eight pedestrian bridge. Lined with cafés, parkland, and public art, the space has recorded over twelve million visits since opening: for locals, it provides a pedestrian link between a ferry stop and the city’s underground railway, as well as 150,000 square meters of office space; visitors come for the riverside flair and the over 150 events the Elizabeth Quay has since brought to Perth: whether participative attractions like public Dîner en Blanc picnics or worldclass sport such as the Gran Fondo World Championships in cycling, the Western Australian capital has become livelier than ever thanks to the development.
NOTHING MAKES TOMORROW’S WORLD VISIBLE LIKE YESTERDAY’S
It is, however, beyond the figures, beyond the upticks in job creation and investment that the starkest–and yet rarest–rarest of infrastructure’s importance can be found. Fifteen years after the Öresund crossing opened, for instance, making the 10-mile over-and-underwater journey had become such a part of everyday life that it was wholly taken for granted. When the surge in migration of late 2015 saw tens of thousands of asylum seekers head for Sweden, however, inhabitants of what had essentially become the Copenhagen-Malmö urban area were given an object lesson in just how much the link had made possible: the Swedish government temporarily reimposed border checks, doubling journey times across Öresund at a stroke—and, for several months, returning the region to the transport status of 1999, when the fastest ferry took roughly an hour.
Or, to return to the Firth of Forth, by the early 2000s, the second crossing, a 2,500-meter suspension road bridge opened in 1964, was regularly handling 60,000 crossings on busy days—twice the original estimate. After years of debate and controversy, work finally started on a third bridge, he 2,700-meter cable-stayed Queensferry Crossing, in 2011. Then, in winter 2015, acute steelwork defects on the Forth Road Bridge led to its immediate closure for several weeks and traffic limitations thereafter; thousands of commuters were thrown back fifty years, forced either to take the train or drive miles upriver. So when the new Queensferry Crossing opened in late August 2017, the sense of relief in the region was palpable. HOCHTIEF was part of the four-company consortium which built the bridge.
Similarly to arguments against its predecessors, criticism of the third bridge over the Firth of Forth has since gone silent. With more than a thousand new homes under construction and rising house prices, locals are delighted with the effect of the new crossing, while the whole east coast of Scotland has breathed a collective sigh of relief that journey times to Edinburgh and further south are back to normal.
A week after its opening, Jackie Kay, Scotland’s Makar (official poet laureate), performed her ode to the new bridge: ”Back and forth, Firth of Forth / North to south, south to north—Queensferry Crossing! / You glint, you glimmer, are ne’er the same twice. Your cables shimmer, disappear in the chittering light—Queensferry Crossing!“