Russia Blog: Bering Strait Tunnel – It’s Possible, but is it Affordable?
Bering Strait Tunnel –
It’s Possible, but is it Affordable?
Though some might call the current proposal for a Bering Straits Tunnel a crazy idea, that is an outdated view. This does not mean, however, that the idea should escape thorough evaluation. Among the many issues that need to be examined, there are two of particular note:
The first is financial soundness. The Euro Tunnel, popularly known as the “Chunnel” — half the length of this proposed Bering Straits tunnel and connecting huge European population centers — is on the verge of coming out of bankruptcy for, I believe, the third time. This chronic financial weakness was initially attributable largely to construction cost overruns, which left it saddled with high debt service. In addition, its passenger services have not been able to compete as effectively as forecasted with the airlines, a number of which are newer low-cost carriers, and the freight services that use the Chunnel are not robust enough to bridge the revenue gap. Adding to these problems, the Chunnel has incurred much higher operating costs in recent years for security and preventing illegal immigration.
The second issue for a Bering Straits Tunnel is the Jones Act, a law affecting the U.S. maritime industry. At a conference in 2005, then Governor of Alaska (and former U.S. Senator) Mike Murkowski strongly promoted connecting Alaska to the Lower 48 by a rail corridor through Canada. His rationale: it is politically impossible to modify the Jones Act, which makes coastal shipping uneconomical because it restricts cabotage (sailing from one U.S. port to another to deliver freight or passengers) by foreign vessels, thus requiring uneconomically costly U.S. bottoms and U.S. crews for American domestic coastal shipping. The question is, will the U.S. Congress be able to take on maritime labor unions and the Jones Act in the name of efficient transportation? If the Jones Act were amended to remove the cabotage restriction – which is not likely but perhaps not impossible – it would reduce the amount of freight flowing on an Alaska-to-Lower-48 rail line, perhaps to the point of making the rail line uneconomic.
These economic issues are much more challenging than the technical ones, and both must be resolved if a Bering Straits Tunnel is to move forward.
Tom Till is managing director of Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center for Regional Development, a non-profit regional transportation initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Mr. Till managed major transportation investment projects in the former Soviet Union for both the World Bank and the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Click on the extended post to read an Anchorage Daily News story about the proposed tunnel project.
The proposed Bering Straits tunnel would link Asia and North America
Notice that the Koreas, Japan and Taiwan are also linked in the picture above. I would say the planners of this tunnel project have a World Peace project in mind. Even today, while shopping in a Chinese market a plasma TV was showing a Chinese / Russian cultural event. One notable: Chinese singing a Russian folk song. That is precisely the kind of thinking that must procede the building of the Bering Strait Tunnel. More is at stake here than the difficulties of the Jones law, Maritime Unions and the monetary woes of the Chunnel. What do you think?