All about cycling in the Netherlands
It was opened two years ago, but it is still not completely finished, the tunnel for walking and cycling between Wijbosch and Schijndel, near ʼs-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. The only thing missing is a work of art on the tunnel walls that has yet to be placed. Some locals and a national television program call this tunnel an “expensive failure” and “a waste of taxpayers’ money”. Is it really that bad? Time to investigate.
The Structuurweg in Schijndel connects to the N617 to ʼs-Hertogenbosch. That road was reconstructed and that meant this road had to be updated as well. To improve the motor traffic flow, the intersection Structuurweg – Wijbosscheweg was to be reconstructed to include a grade separated crossing for walking and cycling. From the options at hand the former municipality of Schijndel chose a tunnel. A bad idea, say some residents now. In the connecting N617, reconstructed earlier, a cycle roundabout near Sint-Michielsgestel didn’t prove to be the best idea either. I wrote about that fiasco in an earlier blog post. The sharp corners of the roundabout entries – that were most problematic – have since been rounded off, problem solved. So, what seems to be the issue here?
Ever since the tunnel was opened on 6 November 2015 people complained about it. A national television program called “Van onze centen!” (From our money!) visited Schijndel last summer. In a sensationalist way the tunnel was called “a waste of taxpayers’ money” and “if you can’t afford a roller coaster ride, you only have to ride your bicycle into this tunnel!” To support these wild assertions, the program makers interviewed some people who thought the tunnel is bad, mainly because the entrances are too steep. The program also claimed the tunnel was 800,000 euro more expensive than planned. Is there truth in these claims?
Yes, the overspending was exactly that amount, but can all of that be attributed to the tunnel? Not quite, it turns out. The ruling council of the former municipality of Schijndel answered questions about the overspending and the justification has an exact breakdown of the cost. Large amounts were needed for other things than the tunnel, such as the construction of an initially overlooked bus stop, extra consultancy costs, interest due to delays and higher fees for the contractors. All in all, the extra costs for the tunnel were 300,000 euros. This was for a completely new design, needed because the original design had such mistakes that it could never have been built. Still a large amount, but the total cost of this completely reconstructed large intersection now came to 2.8 million euros, which does not seem excessively much.
The incline of the tunnel – although steep – follows the recommendations for tunnels in the Netherlands, which is: stay below 5%. So that claim doesn’t stand either. Not all the recommendations were followed. The curve in the north incline makes it impossible to see the other end of the tunnel when you enter it. Also, the walls of the tunnel are not reclining. That makes the tunnel less attractive, but to call it a “complete disaster” goes much too far. The same goes for its nickname. The tunnel has been nicknamed “Barten tunnel” after the “Barten bridge” in nearby ʼs-Hertogenbosch, which really was a fiasco, that I described in an earlier post. That unfinished bridge had to be removed and built anew for more than 10 million euros extra. To compare 10 million to 300,000 euros is a grave exaggeration.
A last complaint is about the work of art. All tunnels in the Netherlands get a work of art, to make them more appealing and to give them a less socially unsafe atmosphere. The municipality hired a graffiti artist from Eindhoven for this tunnel, known from the annual graffiti festival in Eindhoven’s ‘bear pit’. The large work of art, 640 square metres in total, would cost 40,000 euros. But there was a problem; somehow the undercoat of paint didn’t stick to the walls properly in November 2016. They tried again, in April 2017, but when the artist started to apply the colours, the paint came off the wall again. According to the municipality that was due to the damp weather in that time of the year. The paint was removed again. A third attempt was made last June, but again… the paint didn’t hold. Rumour has it because it was forgotten that an anti-graffiti coating had already been applied to the plain white walls… If that is true somebody should be very ashamed. Whatever the reasons, the walls remained completely white ever since, while the new municipality of Meierijstad (in existence since 1 January 2017) decides what to do.
I used the tunnel in both directions and filmed the rides. Have a look at the video and decide for yourself: is this really a disastrous tunnel for walking and cycling?
This week’s video: the underpass in Schijndel.