Project Management Institute

Unchartered Waters

Teams Ready to Connect Estonia and Finland with Baltic Sea Tunnels

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IMAGES COURTESY OF FINEST BAY AREA DEVELOPMENT

Renderings of the underwater tunnel, the artificial island (right top) and the plan for the passenger and cargo tunnels

It could be a watershed moment for Finland and Estonia. Finnish entrepreneur Peter Vesterbacka, the former chief marketing officer of the company that developed Angry Birds, is looking to build the world's longest undersea rail tunnel, crossing the Baltic Sea to connect Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia. But the project team faces major hurdles.

In all, the project aims to build two tunnels (one for freight, the other for passengers) that would link the two cities and effectively cut travel times from two hours to 20 minutes. The route would span more than 100 kilometers (62.1 miles), nearly twice as long as the current longest underwater tunnel. That's not all: Mr. Vesterbacka also wants to build an artificial island that could house up to 50,000 people, among other grand plans. “I have a very simple philosophy towards this project: Let's not waste time and instead just get things done,” Mr. Vesterbacka told Politico.

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—Peter Vesterbacka, to Politico

FinEst Bay Area Development, the project's developer, said construction is expected to start next year, with a target completion of 2024. China's Touchstone Capital Partners announced in March that it would be providing €15 billion of financing as part of China's Belt and Road Initiative. (Additional funding has come from other private sources. Mr. Vesterbacka has said he doesn't want to use public funds.)

Getting various stakeholders from both countries aligned is crucial, says Kustaa Valtonen, partner, FinEst Bay Area Development, Helsinki, Finland. “Estonia and Finland are brotherly countries, and collaboration is ongoing all the time,” he says. “Still, there is variation in the different processes of each country. It's very important to manage the same expectations for both.”

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In particular, given that the tunnel is cutting through a wide swath of sea, project teams have done and will continue to do extensive ecological studies to ensure the tunnel doesn't disrupt marine life. Major environmental risks detailed in FinEst's final feasibility report included increased greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater contamination and disruption to aquatic life.

The target date might also be ambitious, with the feasibility study noting that construction would likely take 15 years. Estonia's minister of public administration, Jaak Aab, told Estonia Public Broadcasting in July that 2024 doesn't seem realistic. Both governments are seeking more information before approving the project for construction. “The more I've learned about how infrastructure projects are done, the more surprised I've been,” Mr. Vesterbacka told Politico, “and not in a positive way.” —Judy Giannetto

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