1. bookVolume 13 (2021): Issue 2 (June 2021)
    Special Issue: Sparsely populated rural areas
Journal Details
First Published
24 Feb 2009
Publication timeframe
4 times per year
access type Open Access

Tunnelling the Peninsula of Trolls: A Case Study of Road Infrastructure Improvement and Demographic Dynamics in Northern Iceland

Published Online: 12 Jul 2021
Volume & Issue: Volume 13 (2021) - Issue 2 (June 2021)<br/>Special Issue: Sparsely populated rural areas
Page range: 368 - 387
Received: 25 Nov 2020
Accepted: 23 Mar 2021
Journal Details
First Published
24 Feb 2009
Publication timeframe
4 times per year

Geographical isolation is closely associated with rural population decline and policies for regional and rural development frequently emphasize better transportation infrastructure improvements. Although poor access to jobs and services may lead to negative rates of net migration and skewed age and gender distribution in rural and remote areas, research on the association of road infrastructure improvement with rural demographic dynamics remains sparse. The current study adds to the understanding of these issues by examining the effects of a large-scale road tunnel project in Northern Iceland. The results suggest that improved road infrastructure coincides with a break in long-term population decline through parity in net migration and positive changes in the composition of the population of sparsely populated areas.


[1] Amcoff, J. (2009). Rapid regional enlargement in Sweden: A phenomenon missing an explanation. Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 91(3), 275–287. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0467.2009.00320.x.10.1111/j.1468-0467.2009.00320.x Search in Google Scholar

[2] Baldacchino, G., ed. (2007). Bridging Islands: The Impact of “Fixed Links”. Charlottetown: Acorn Press. Search in Google Scholar

[3] Baldvinsson, P. B. (2019). Síldarárin 1867–1969. Reykjavík: JPV. Search in Google Scholar

[4] Barthon, C. (2007). Bridge impacts on islands off the west coast of France. In Baldacchino, G., ed., Bridging Islands: The Impact of “Fixed Links” (pp. 219–235). Charlottetown: Acorn Press. Search in Google Scholar

[5] Baum-Snow, N. (2007). Did highways cause suburbanization? The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(2), 775–805. DOI: 10.1162/qjec.122.2.775.10.1162/qjec.122.2.775 Search in Google Scholar

[6] Baum-Snow, N., Brandt, L., Henderson, J. V., Turner, M. A. & Zhang, Q. (2017). Roads, railroads, and decentralization of Chinese cities. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 99(3), 435–448. DOI: 10.1162/rest_a_00660.10.1162/REST_a_00660 Search in Google Scholar

[7] Bisaschi, L., Romano, F., Carlsberg, M., Carneiro, J., Ceccanti, D., Calofir, L. & Skinner, I. (2021). Transport Infrastructure in Low-Density and Depopulating Areas. Brussels: European Parliament, Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies. Search in Google Scholar

[8] Bjarnason, T. (2014). The effects of road infrastructure improvement on work travel in northern Iceland. Journal of Transport Geography, 41, 229–238. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2014. Search in Google Scholar

[9] Bjarnason, T. (2015). Samgöngur og byggðaþróun: Samfélagsleg áhrif Héðinsfjarðarganga. Íslenska þjóðfélagið, 6(1), 5–36. Search in Google Scholar

[10] Bjarnason, T. & Thorlindsson, T. (2006). Should I stay or should I go? migration expectations among youth in Icelandic fishing and farming communities. Journal of Rural Studies, 22(3), 290–300. DOI: 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2005. Search in Google Scholar

[11] Bjarnason, T., Olafsson, K. & Stefansson, K. (2010). Búsetuþróun í Fjallabyggð. In Bjarnason, T. & Stefansson, K., eds., Fjallabyggð fyrir Héðinsfjarðargöng: Samgöngur, Samfélag og Byggðaþróun (pp. 50–57). Akureyri: University of Akureyri. Search in Google Scholar

[12] Chi, G. (2012). The impacts of transport accessibility on population change across rural, suburban and urban areas. Urban Studies, 49(12), 2711–2731. DOI: 10.1177/0042098011431284.10.1177/0042098011431284 Search in Google Scholar

[13] Corbett, M. (2013). I’m going to make sure I’m ready before I leave: The complexity of educational and mobility decision-making in a Canadian coastal community. Journal of Rural Studies, 32, 275–282. DOI: 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2013. Search in Google Scholar

[14] Dubois, A. & Roto, J. (2012). Making the best of Europe’s Sparsely Populated Areas: On making Geographic Specificity a Driver for Territorial Development in Europe [working paper] Stockholm: NORDREGIO. Search in Google Scholar

[15] Elshof, H., Wissen, L. & Mulder, C. H. (2014). The self-reinforcing effects of population decline: An analysis of differences in moving behaviour between rural neighbourhoods with declining and stable populations. Journal of Rural Studies, 36, 285–299. DOI: 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2014. Search in Google Scholar

[16] Fageda, X. & Olivieri, C. (2019). Transport infrastructure and regional convergence: A spatial panel data approach. Papers in Regional Science, 98(4), 1609–1631. DOI: 10.1111/pirs.12433.10.1111/pirs.12433 Search in Google Scholar

[17] Garcia-López, M., Holl, A. & Viladecans-Marsal, E. (2015). Suburbanization and highways in Spain when the romans and the bourbons still shape its cities. Journal of Urban Economics, 85, 52–67. DOI: 10.1016/j.jue.2014. Search in Google Scholar

[18] Gardarsdottir, Ó, Bjarnason, T., Jónsson, S. H. & Shuttleworth, I. (2020). Is internal migration declining in Iceland? intensities, geographical patterns and population composition 1986–2017. Population Space and Place. DOI: 10.1002/psp.2339.10.1002/psp.2339 Search in Google Scholar

[19] Garmendia, M., Ureña, J. M. & Coronado, J. M. (2011). Long-distance trips in a sparsely populated region: The impact of high-speed infrastructures. Journal of Transport Geography, 19(4), 537–551. DOI:10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2010. Search in Google Scholar

[20] Grimsrud, G. M. (2011). How well does the ‘counter-urbanisation story’ travel to other countries? the case of Norway. Population Space and Place, 17(5), 642–655. DOI: 10.1002/psp.655.10.1002/psp.655 Search in Google Scholar

[21] Guay, L. (2007). Two Islands in the Saint Lawrence River: One Bridged; One Unbridged. In Baldacchino, G., ed., Bridging Islands: The Impact of “Fixed Links” (pp. 105–122). Charlottetown: Acorn Press. Search in Google Scholar

[22] Gustafsdottir, S. S., Fenger, K., Halldorsdottir, S. & Bjarnason, T. (2017). Social justice, access and quality of healthcare in an age of austerity: Users’ perspective from rural Iceland. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 76(1), Art. 1347476. DOI: 10.1080/22423982.2017.1347476.10.1080/22423982.2017.1347476554982328762300 Search in Google Scholar

[23] Herslund, L. (2012). The rural creative class: Counterurbanisation and entrepreneurship in the Danish countryside. Sociologia Ruralis, 52(2), 235–255. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9523.2011.00560.x.10.1111/j.1467-9523.2011.00560.x Search in Google Scholar

[24] Howard, E. (1898). Garden Cities of To-Morrow. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. Search in Google Scholar

[25] Huang, Z., Xu, H., Li, J. & Luo, N. (2020). Has highway construction narrowed the urban– rural income gap? Evidence from Chinese cities. Papers in Regional Science, 99(3), 705–723. DOI: 10.1111/pirs.12504.10.1111/pirs.12504 Search in Google Scholar

[26] Huijbens, E. H. (2012). Sustaining a village’s social fabric? Sociologia Ruralis, 52(3), 332–352. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9523.2012.00565.x.10.1111/j.1467-9523.2012.00565.x Search in Google Scholar

[27] Iacono, M. & Levinson, D. (2016). Mutual causality in road network growth and economic development. Transport Policy, 45, 209–217. DOI: 10.1016/j.tranpol.2015. Search in Google Scholar

[28] Johnson, K. M. & Lichter, D. T. (2019). Rural depopulation: Growth and decline processes over the past century. Rural Sociology, 84(1), 3–27. DOI: 10.1111/ruso.12266.10.1111/ruso.12266 Search in Google Scholar

[29] Johnson, K. M., Field, L. M. & Poston, D. L. (2015). More deaths than births. Population and Development Review, 41(4), 651–680. DOI: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2015.00089.x.10.1111/j.1728-4457.2015.00089.x Search in Google Scholar

[30] Källgård, A. (2007). Sweden, islands and bridges. In Baldacchino, G., ed., Bridging Islands: The Impact of “Fixed Links” (pp. 251–260). Charlottetown: Acorn Press. Search in Google Scholar

[31] Knudsen, M. A. & Rich, J. (2013). Ex post socio-economic assessment of the Öresund bridge. Transport Policy, 27, 53–65. DOI: 10.1016/j.tranpol.2012. Search in Google Scholar

[32] Kopecky, K. A. & Suen, R. M. H. (2010). A quantitative analysis of suburbanization and the diffusion of the automobile. International Economic Review, 51(4), 1003–1037. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2354.2010.00609.x.10.1111/j.1468-2354.2010.00609.x Search in Google Scholar

[33] Lavesson, N. (2017). When and how does commuting to cities influence rural employment growth? Journal of Regional Science, 57(4), 631–654. DOI: 10.1111/jors.12324.10.1111/jors.12324 Search in Google Scholar

[34] Levkovich, O., Rouwendal, J. & van Ommeren, J. (2019). The impact of highways on population redistribution: The role of land development restrictions. Journal of Economic Geography, 20(3), 783–808. DOI: 10.1093/jeg/lbz003.10.1093/jeg/lbz003 Search in Google Scholar

[35] Lian, J. I. & Rønnevik, J. (2010). Ringvirkninger av store vegprosjekter i norge. Oslo: Transportøkonomisk Institutt. Search in Google Scholar

[36] Manning, A. (2003). The real thin theory: Monopsony in modern labour markets. Labour Economics, 10(2), 105–131. DOI: 10.1016/s0927-5371(03)00018-6.10.1016/S0927-5371(03)00018-6 Search in Google Scholar

[37] Martínez-Filgueira, X., Peón, D. & López-Iglesias, E. (2017). Intra-rural divides and regional planning: An analysis of a traditional emigration region (Galicia, Spain). European Planning Studies, 25(7), 1237–1255. DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2017.1319465.10.1080/09654313.2017.1319465 Search in Google Scholar

[38] Mohíno, I., Solís, E. & Urena, J. M. (2016). Changing commuting patterns in rural metro-adjacent regions: The case of Castilla-la Mancha in the context of Madrid, Spain. Regional Studies, 51(7), 1115–1130. DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2016.1156238.10.1080/00343404.2016.1156238 Search in Google Scholar

[39] Moss, J. E., Jack, C. G. & Wallace, M. T. (2004). Employment location and associated commuting patterns for individuals in disadvantaged rural areas in Northern Ireland. Regional Studies, 38(2), 121–136. DOI: 10.1080/0034340042000190118.10.1080/0034340042000190118 Search in Google Scholar

[40] Partridge, J. & Nolan, J. (2009). Commuting on the Canadian prairies and the urban/rural divide. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 22(1), 58–72. DOI: 10.1111/j.1936-4490.2005.tb00361.x.10.1111/j.1936-4490.2005.tb00361.x Search in Google Scholar

[41] Partridge, M. D., Ali, K. & Olfert, M. R. (2010). Rural-to-urban commuting: Three degrees of integration. Growth and Change, 41(2), 303–335. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2257.2010.00528.x.10.1111/j.1468-2257.2010.00528.x Search in Google Scholar

[42] Rauhut, D. & Littke, H. (2016). ‘A one way ticket to the city, please!’ on young women leaving the Swedish peripheral region Västernorrland. Journal of Rural Studies, 43, 301–310. DOI: 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2015. Search in Google Scholar

[43] Royle, S. A. (2007). Islands off the Irish Coast and the ‘Bridging Effect’. In Baldacchino, G., ed., Bridging Islands: The Impact of “Fixed Links” (pp. 203–218). Charlottetown: Acorn Press. Search in Google Scholar

[44] Saethorsdottir, A. D., Hall, C. M. & Wendt, M. (2020). Overtourism in Iceland: Fantasy or reality? Sustainability, 12(18), Art. 7375. DOI: 10.3390/su12187375.10.3390/su12187375 Search in Google Scholar

[45] Salvia, R., Egidi, G., Salvati, L., Rodrigo-Comino, J. & Quaranta, G. (2020). In-between ‘Smart’ urban growth and ‘Sluggish’ rural development? reframing population dynamics in Greece, 1940–2019. Sustainability, 12(15), Art. 6165. DOI: 10.3390/su12156165.10.3390/su12156165 Search in Google Scholar

[46] Sandow, E. & Westin, K. (2010). The persevering commuter: Duration of long-distance commuting. Transportation Research Part A, 44, 433–445. DOI: 10.1016/j.tra.2010. Search in Google Scholar

[47] Sandow, E. (2008). Commuting behaviour in sparsely populated areas: Evidence from northern Sweden. Journal of Transport Geography, 16(1), 14–27. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2007. Search in Google Scholar

[48] Skrbis, Z., Woodward, I. & Bean, C. (2013). Seeds of cosmopolitan future? Young people and their aspirations for future mobility. Journal of Youth Studies, 17(5), 614–625. DOI: 10.1080/13676261.2013.834314.10.1080/13676261.2013.834314 Search in Google Scholar

[49] Thiede, B. C., Brown, D. L., Sanders, S. R., Glasgow, N. & Kulcsar, L. J. (2017). A demographic deficit? local population aging and access to services in rural america, 1990–2010. Rural Sociology, 82(1), 44–74. DOI: 10.1111/ruso.12117.10.1111/ruso.12117552814628757660 Search in Google Scholar

[50] Thissen, F., Fortuijn, J. D., Strijker, D. & Haartsen, T. (2010). Migration intentions of rural youth in the Westhoek, Flanders, Belgium and the Veenkoloniën, the Netherlands. Journal of Rural Studies, 26(4), 428–436. DOI: 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2010. Search in Google Scholar

[51] Thorsen, I. (1998). Spatial consequences of changes in the transportation network: Theoretical analysis and numerical experiments within a multizonal three sector model. Papers in Regional Science, 77(4), 375–406. DOI: 10.1111/j.1435-5597.1998.tb00723.x.10.1111/j.1435-5597.1998.tb00723.x Search in Google Scholar

[52] Tonts, M. (2010). Labour market dynamics in resource dependent regions: An examination of the western australian goldfields. Geographical Research, 48(2), 148–165. DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-5871.2009.00624.x.10.1111/j.1745-5871.2009.00624.x Search in Google Scholar

[53] Tveter, E. (2018). Using impacts on commuting as an initial test of wider economic benefits of transport improvements: Evidence from the Eiksund connection. Case Studies on Transport Policy, 6(4), 803–814. DOI: 10.1016/j.cstp.2018. Search in Google Scholar

[54] Tveter, E., Welde, M. & Odeck, J. (2017). Do fixed links affect settlement patterns: A synthetic control approach. Research in Transportation Economics, 63, 59–72. DOI: 10.1016/j.retrec.2017. Search in Google Scholar

[55] Vias, A. C. (2006). Population change, economic restructuring, and the evolving landscape of retail activities in the rural Great Plains. Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 21(2), 1–22. Search in Google Scholar

[56] Eurostat (2020). Population density. Accessed at https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/tps00003/default/table?lang=en. Search in Google Scholar

[57] Gallup (2017). Þjónustusókn á Norðurlandi Eystra [Service]. Sauðárkrókur: Icelandic Regional Development Institute. Accessed at https://www.byggdastofnun.is/static/files/Skyrslur/thjonustukonnun2018/6-nordurlandeystra-loka.pdf. Search in Google Scholar

[58] Icelandic Road Authority (2020). Umferð á Þjóðvegum [Traffic on National Roads]. Accessed at http://www.vegagerdin.is/upplysingar-og-utgafa/umferdin/umfthjodvegum/. Search in Google Scholar

[59] OECD (2006). The New Rural Paradigm: Policies and Governance. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Retrieved from https://www.oecdilibrary.org/governance/the-new-rural-paradigm_9789264023918-en.10.1787/9789264023918-en Search in Google Scholar

[60] OECD (2019). OECD Regional Outlook 2019: Leveraging Megatrends for Cities and Rural Areas. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/regional/oecd-regional-outlook-2019-9789264312838-en.htm. Search in Google Scholar

[61] Parliament of Iceland 2018. Stefnumótandi byggðaáætlun. [Strategic regional plan for Iceland]. Accessed at https://www.althingi.is/altext/148/s/1242.html. Search in Google Scholar

[62] Statistics Iceland. 2020a. Population by municipality, age and sex 19982020. Accessed at https://px.hagstofa.is/pxen/pxweb/en/Ibuar/Ibuar__mannfjoldi__2_byggdir__sveitarfelog/MAN02005.px. Search in Google Scholar

[63] Statistics Iceland. 2020b. Mannfjöldi í einstökum byggðakjörnum og strjálbýli 18802018. Accessed at http://px.hagstofa.is/pxis/pxweb/is/Sogulegar/Sogulegar__sogul_mannfjoldi/SOG01010.px. Search in Google Scholar

[64] Statistics Iceland. 2020c. Population by urban nuclei, sex and age 20012020. Accessed at https://px.hagstofa.is/pxen/pxweb/en/Ibuar/Ibuar__mannfjoldi__2_byggdir__Byggdakjarnar/MAN030101.px. Search in Google Scholar

[65] Statistics Iceland. 2020d. Migration by municipality and sex 1986–2019. Accessed at https://px.hagstofa.is/pxen/pxweb/en/Ibuar/Ibuar__buferlaflutningar__buferlaflinnanlands__buferlaflinnanlands/MAN01201.px. Search in Google Scholar

Recommended articles from Trend MD

Plan your remote conference with Sciendo