What is it about?

Why does Norway, currently one of the world’s wealthiest countries measured in GDP per capita, still suffer from a shortage of motorways and other modern trunk roads? With its dispersed settlement, long distances between national producers, wholesalers and consumers, and relative remoteness from Central European export markets; Norway is more dependent on such roads than most countries. Though the Norwegian authorities invested in motorways in the early 1960s, they completed only a few kilometres between 1973 and the mid-1990s. Norway’s history of major road construction stands in sharp contrast to its Scandinavian neighbours, Denmark and Sweden, both of which have invested heavily in motorways, and this article is an attempt to understand why. Can path dependence explain Denmark’s and Sweden’s rather similar road policies, and Norway’s divergent twentieth-century road policy? Or, as will be explored following empirical case study summaries, is there an alternative explanation?

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Why is it important?

Financial leverage cannot explain why Norway lags behind most West European countries as far as motorways and other trunk roads are concerned. Norway’s GDP per capita approximated the West European average between 1950 and 1980. Oil and gas export revenue thereafter made the Norwegian state exceptionally wealthy. The puzzle is that Denmark and Sweden, which, compared to Norway, cannot afford such investment, have prioritised construction of motorways between regions and within and near the major population clusters.


Since approximately 1950, the road policies in Denmark and Sweden have been remarkably similar, despite different road regimes. Norway’s road policy took a divergent path. After World War II the Danish and Swedish authorities prioritised investment in modern trunk roads from the major cities towards the peripheral and rural areas. In Norway after World War II, the authorities postponed road construction and prioritised investment in secondary highways in peripheral and rural areas, postponing or omitting the construction of trunk roads and motorways in central and urban areas, particularly between 1966 and 1985. After World War II, cost-benefit calculations or other scientific principles usually governed allocation of road investments in Denmark and Sweden. In Norway, political considerations prevailed.

Associate professor Knut Boge
Norges miljo- og biovitenskapelige universitet

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This page is a summary of: Divergent Paths, The Journal of Transport History, September 2008, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.7227/tjth.29.2.4.
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