helsinki at night

The Helsinki Harbour Tunnel will create a functioning and vibrant city

The Helsinki Harbour Tunnel will be a feat of adaptation which will create a functioning and vibrant city.

The port area in Helsinki will see a lot of changes in the next few years.

Tallinn route traffic will be concentrated in the West Harbour and Stockholm ferries will all depart from and arrive at Katajanokka. The changes mean that space in the South Harbour can be used by locals, and space will be freed up for a new architecture and design museum. These changes require development of the port and urban infrastructure, in which the harbour tunnel is a key solution.

To be able to concentrate harbour operations, the West Harbour and its transport links must be developed. The dock area of the West Harbour will be expanded and a harbour tunnel will be built between the West Harbour and the Länsiväylä (Western Highway) motorway.

The tunnel will significantly improve the vehicular traffic links to the harbour and make the West Harbour more accessible. Upon completion, the tunnel will be used by all heavy goods traffic passing through the West Harbour, as well as all car traffic between the West Harbour and the Western Highway. The changes will provide additional opportunities for the expansion of the West Harbour’s functions, as well as for the development of the harbour’s and shipping companies’ business.

AFRY is responsible for drawing up the harbour tunnel master plan and will act as the project’s principal designer. In addition, AFRY is a consultant in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the West Harbour expansion.

Havainnekuva satamatunnelista. Helsingin Satama Oy.
Image: Port of Helsinki Ltd.

The tunnel project will demand three-dimensional alignment and consideration of stakeholders’ needs.

“Our role in the tunnel project is to design a functional transport link from the West Harbour to the Western Highway with consideration for the city council’s and key stakeholders’ goals. As always, the project should be functional, secure, sustainable and cost-efficient. Designing it is a complicated jigsaw puzzle, which must consider three dimensions and various parties’ goals, both now and in the future and find a suitable compromise,” says Project Manager Jari Haapala of AFRY.

Cooperation with different stakeholders during the design phase has been key. We have established the goals of the Port of Helsinki, the city and other stakeholders, and this information has guided the design. Based on the aligned goals and studies done in the areas included, we have drawn up many different alternative scenarios for completing the tunnel. At the time of writing, in November 2022, the designs have been narrowed down to three options, which differ in terms of the tunnel routing and the junction with the Western Highway. To support their choice, we offered decision makers information about the characteristics and impacts of the options. We did this to ensure that the most suitable one would be chosen based on high-quality information.

Working in a densely built urban environment required aligning the project design in three dimensions. The harbour tunnel must avoid several structures both above and below ground, such as metro tunnels and various spaces and structures belonging to electricity company Helen. However, it is not possible to avoid all structures, meaning the design work had to identify solutions for situations in which structures come into contact with each other.

helmet and design tools

In addition to existing structures, alignment has had to consider provisions made for future projects. The design work has had to consider things like the city council’s goals for land use and provisions for the central tunnel. In addition, we have cooperated with designers on building projects in the area to ensure we can align our project with theirs.

“Even though there is a lot to take into account, the design work has moved forward nimbly. We have been able to do investigations, exclude options and we’ve worked with the stakeholders to reach new solutions for challenges,” Haapala says.

The design has had to consider the entire construction period of the project. The harbour needs to remain operational during construction, and the disruption caused by building work must be kept to a minimum in other respects, too. To ensure the operations in the building site environment continue with few disruptions, the designers must pay attention to aspects such as the kinds of spaces needed during construction and traffic signposting during the project.

construction workers with yellow helmets

Skills and cooperation are the keys to success

The consideration of stakeholders’ goals and needs is an important part of design work, but is not enough by itself. The success of the project also requires rock-solid skills in rock structure design and rock conditions. Extensive experience helps see the most crucial parts of the big picture and identify what needs to be investigated further, such as to establish constructability. Broad experience of tunnel construction ensures that various building methods and opportunities can be taken into account. The project also demands consideration of local conditions, such as the impact of the sea and the features of the bedrock.

The client’s role is also crucial to a successful project. The Port of Helsinki should be praised for its role as a client. “During the project, enough studies and investigations have been done to give the necessary information to support decision-making and even help cut costs,” Haapala says. When seeking good solutions, sufficient baseline data and studies are valuable and enable high-quality design. The investigation and design phase of the project always creates a framework for later operations, meaning a large portion of the costs are set early on. In this case, it is still possible to compare various solutions and potentially save a lot of money and time in the completion stage. Good design thus provides the project with a good chance of success.

Construction of the harbour tunnel is planned for 2025–2027 and Tallinn ferry traffic is set to be concentrated at the West Harbour from 2028.

Project information:

  • Client: Port of Helsinki Ltd

  • Project: Harbour tunnel between West Harbour and Western Highway.

  • Period: 2025–2027

  • Role of AFRY: principal designer, EIA

group of people walking in the city

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Arto Wegelius - Kalliotilat ja tunnelit, hankekehitys
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Jari Haapala - Projektipäällikkö, Infra, Vantaa
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