The Bering Strait Bridge Idea (continued)
The weather at the Bering Strait is nothing for cowards. Winters are characterized by nights that last for months, strong winds, average temperatures around -20 0C and record lows of -50 0C. During storms waves can reach heights close to 20 meters. In summer the days last for months but the temperatures donít rise for long to levels that are normally associated with summer.
The Bering Strait is frozen for the larger part of the year. As a result, construction on a bridge in the Strait could only be carried out for a few months per year. Thus the components would probably have to be built elsewhere and assembled in location during the ice-free months.
Needless to say, that ordinary building materials wouldnít last long under the onslaught of cruel temperatures, icebergs and severe storms. Ongoing maintenance of the bridge also poses problems in light of severe weather and temperatures.
To get an impression what itís like at the Arctic Circle you can watch this slide show at the Fujifilm website.
Infrastructure and Business
While building a bridge or a tunnel across the Bering Strait is one thing - reaching it is a challenge in itself. Currently there are very few traffic routes in the areas to both sides of the proposed bridge. The Transsiberian Railway officially ends at Magadan, a few thousand kilometers away from the Strait. On the US side the Alaska Highway ends about 160 kilometers southeast of Fairbanks, barely across the state border. Getting from these locations to the Bering Bridge would still be a challenge, especially if we look at the situation in terms of commercial viability.
A project that cost in excess of 100 billion USD must at least to some degree commercially viable.
Potentially returns on the investment are considerable. Both Alaska and Siberia are rich in natural resources. Finding a way to deliver these in bulk quantities to the rest of the world could turn out as a major stimulus for the development of these areas and beyond.
Connecting Alaska alone to the rest of the North American continent would deliver an abundance of resources to major industrial manufacturing centers. The Bering Strait Crossing would add to this the even richer resources of vast Eastern Siberia. In the same way Russia would benefit from the development of Siberia and goods could also flow the other way, from the continental USA into Russia, Korea and China.
Obviously there are political issues to consider. The systems and cultures on both sides of the Bering Strait are very different. Until recently the cold war between the Western World and the Eastern Block muted discussions on the issue. After the fall of communism and the end of the cold war the Bering Strait project found renewed interest also from the Russian side, even though until now no concrete plans have been brought forth for the implementation of a bridge project.
Due to the international implications the project has usually been regarded as an issue between governments, mainly of those USA and Russia. The stimulus to the economies of these nations would justify the investment of funds above 100 billion USD.
In addition, the level of international cooperation could set a precedent for the development of peaceful relations among the nations on both sides. Probably for this reason the project has also been referred to as the International Peace Bridge.
Touristic and Environmental Issues
The issue of tourism is less often quoted in support of the Bering Strait project. Of course, for serious numbers of travellers to flock into the deserted areas of Alaska and eastern Siberia a few more conditions have to fall in place than for the mining of resources. Only a negligibly number of people might want to settle for a summer vacation in igloos, trailers, cottages and snow storms.
Nevertheless, many regions in Alaska have been a goal for travelers for quite some time. On the other side of the Bering Strait Korean and Chinese workers and recently also tourists journey into eastern Siberia, boosting the economies of these remote regions.
Thus, also tourism might be a worthwhile niche market. A vacation in the wilderness at high winds and subzero temperatures will certainly draw a specialized clientele - as long as the heaters work. Pending approval of the Environmental Protection Agencies - currently commercial activities in many Alaska regions are restricted to exploitation of natural resources.
The ecological environment will hardly benefit. Facilitated access to these remote areas will certainly translate into faster depletion of resources and increased pollution in one of the earthís last untouched regions.
Now you know the facts - judge for yourself. Would you build a bridge or a tunnel - or wait for the winter and walk?
One more thing: According to recent news, the Euro-Tunnel between France and England, which took only a fraction of what the Bering Project would cost, has run up debts in excess of 10 billion and currently faces bankruptcy. One issue there, however, that the Bering crossing would not have to face, is competition from surface traffic.