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kammon strait bridge

Bering Strait bridge

The Bering Strait bridge or Bering Strait tunnel, if ever constructed, would be a bridge or tunnel spanning the Bering Strait between Cape Dezhnev, Chukotka, Russia, and Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, United States. The name The Intercontinental Peace Bridge has been used in some proposals. Another name suggested is Eurasia-America Transport Link. Whatever the name, the construction of such a bridge or tunnel would face unprecedented engineering, political, and financial challenges, and to date, no government has authorized the start of any planning or construction.

A Bering Strait bridge or tunnel would provide an overland connection linking Asia, Africa and Europe with North America and South America. The Bering Strait could be spanned by a series of three bridges via the Diomede Islands for a total distance of about 80 km (50 miles). The two long spans would each be comparable in length to the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, currently the second-longest bridge in the world. However, the most recent proposal calls for construction of a tunnel.

History

The concept of an overland connection crossing the Bering Strait goes back at least before the 20th century. William Gilpin, first governor of the Colorado Territory, envisioned a vast "Cosmopolitan Railway" in 1890 linking the entire world via a series of railways. Two years later Joseph Strauss, who went on to design over 400 bridges, including the Golden Gate Bridge, put forward the first proposal for a Bering Strait railroad bridge in his senior thesis. The project was presented to the government of the Russian Empire, but it was rejected.

Interest was renewed in 1943 with the completion of the Alaska Highway linking the remote territory of Alaska with the Continental United States. Ambitious Alaskans envisioned the highway continuing to link with Nome near the Bering Strait, but no serious proposals for a bridge were made.

In 1968 engineer T. Y. Lin made a feasibility study of a Bering Strait bridge and estimated a cost more than $4 billion. Like Gilpin, Lin envisioned the project as a symbol of international cooperation and unity. Lin also proposed, among other bridges, a second massive connection spanning the Strait of Gibraltar. During the Cold War, however, the concept met mostly with cool reception. Lin died in 2003.

Several others have advocated a Bering Strait bridge including Russian railway engineer Anatoly Cherkasov soon after the end of the Cold War.

Challenges

Technical challenges

The route would lie just south of the Arctic Circle, subject to long, dark winters and extreme weather (average winter lows −20°C with possible lows approaching −50°C). Maintenance of any exposed roadway would be difficult and closures frequent. Even maintenance of enclosed roadways and pipelines could also be affected by winter weather. Ice breakup after each winter is violent and would destroy normal bridge piers. Specially shaped massive piers along the ocean floor would be needed to keep the bridge stable. The Confederation Bridge between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick addresses similar concerns on a much smaller scale.

The bridge would require thousands of kilometers of new road and/or track over extremely harsh terrain through the wilderness of Alaska and Siberia. The nearest railheads are Fairbanks, Alaska or Jackson, British Columbia on the Dease Lake branch of Canadian National on the North American side and Yakutsk on the Russian side. Russia is in the process of completing a rail connection from the Baikal Amur Mainline to Yakutsk. This may prove to be less of a problem, with a binational study going on to see if a rail link from Jackson, BC and Dease Lake, BC or Fort St. John, BC to Fairbanks, Alaska (via Whitehorse, Yukon) is feasible .

The United States and Canada use American standard gauge (4 feet, 8.5 inches wide) rails, while Russia uses Russian broad gauge (5 feet wide) tracks, a break-of-gauge, and this would have to be addressed. A dual-gauge track network has been proposed, as those are used in some areas of Australia, whose rail network is split into different gauges. A cheaper solution is variable gauge axles or bogie exchange, as used at several places in the world already.

Environmental opposition

Both the Alaskan and Siberian wilderness areas are the focus of major conservation efforts. Access roads would cross thousands of kilometers of these areas. The bridge itself would cross a major whale migration route, as well the world's largest King Crab migration route.

Similar concerns have arisen over the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and oil and natural gas drilling on the Alaska North Slope, which remains highly controversial: if any problems occur during the building of the bridge, or oil or natural gas is spilled into the strait, the natural environment could be devastated.

There have been long discussions about a highway for the benefit of residents in western Alaska, but environmental concerns and fears of undue cultural influence from a higher number of visitors to Eskimo villages have obstructed these plans.

Economic costs and benefits

Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering estimates the cost of a highway, double track rail and pipelines, at $105 billion, five times the cost of the Channel Tunnel. This excludes the cost of new roads and railways to reach the bridge.

A lower estimate for just a road bridge is $15-25 billion, based on the price per mile of other bridges, like the Confederation Bridge which cost US$180 million per mile. The Discovery Channel proposal contains several extremely long suspension spans, while the Confederation Bridge is a pure concrete bridge. The water is not so deep (average 100-150 ft) and the boat traffic not so dense as to require very long suspension spans (as opposed to the Strait of Messina Bridge or the Gibraltar Bridge).

The cost for the connections would be high also. Alone, a road to the Fairbanks area, about 700 miles, would cost at least $6 billion. The distances on the Russian side are larger than that. A railway would have to be much longer, and cost much more money. These costs must be justified inside each country, like linking Alaska with the rest of the USA, and linking western Alaska with the rest of Alaska. The bridge itself is hard enough to finance.

The Bering Strait area is extremely remote and sparsely populated. Air is the main mode of travel in the area, and across the strait there are very few chartered flights by small private airlines such as Bering Air, located in Nome. There is no existing car or rail ferry service as there are no roads or railways for it to serve. So far, tourism in Chukotka is hindered by the international border controls and visa requirements. In Russia, a special visit permit is required because of military restrictions; this must be lifted for significant volumes of travel by air or boat to occur.

To finance the bridges, fees would be needed. Possible sources of these fees include container traffic between Russia/China and Canada/U.S., which could make the transit much more quickly by rail than by crossing the Pacific Ocean. It is impossible to finance the bridge on road/rail fees only. A bridge which also carried pipelines would earn pipeline revenues. Potential income from these sources is unknown. The main market for the oil would be the contiguous part of the USA, a very long distance away. The cost to ship the oil by boat is much lower than the enormous cost for a pipeline. Natural gas is a more likely candidate, due to the relative difficulty of transporting it by boat.

Alternatives

Assuming that the necessary access routes are in place, alternatives to a Bering Strait bridge include:

  • Car/rail ferry service in summer months.
  • Car/rail ferry service around the year, requires special top-class ice-capable ferries, and ice breaker assistance.
  • An immersed tube or tunnel.
  • A dam, for instance the proposed St. Lawrence Dam.

Bering Strait tunnel

The TKM-World Link is a planned link between Siberia and Alaska providing oil, natural gas, and electricity to the United States and Canada from Russia. The plan includes provisions to build a 64 mile (103 km) road and rail tunnel under the Bering Strait which, if completed, would become the longest tunnel in the world. As of 2007, the 53.85 km Seikan Tunnel is the longest tunnel of this type. The tunnel would be part of a railway joining Yakutsk, the capital of the Russian Yakutia republic, with the western coast of Alaska.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian ex-president, has approved a plan to build a railroad to the Bering Strait area, as a part of the development plan for the years until 2030. A Bering Strait tunnel could be built after this railroad is built. The funding is however doubted. The 64-mile tunnel would run under the Bering Strait between Chukotka, in the Russian far east, and Alaska. Putin discussed plans for a tunnel to link his country with America when he met with U.S. President George W. Bush on April 6, 2008. A cost estimate was £33 (US$66) billion. .

History

Tsar Nicholas II approved a planned tunnel in 1905. According to other sources a railway ferry was planned. These hopes were dashed when Russia became involved in World War I. Also funding could not be raised.

Plan

The Russian plan for the TKM-World Link involves creating a 6,000 km (3,700 mi) route through Siberia to facilitate economic ties to the U.S. A pipeline will be created to transport natural gas and oil from Siberia

References

See also

References

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