Two studies aimed to find out if the busy traffic at the central West Harbor could be relocated to Vuosaari, eastern Helsinki.

Truck after truck stand in line after crawling out of the Tallink Shuttle ferry at the West Harbor in June 2020. Picture: Tony Öhberg/Finland Today

HELSINKI—There’s hardly a time when the traffic does not jam from Jätkäsaari peninsula to Mechelininkatu when a ferry cruise from Estonia has arrived at the West Harbor. Transport trucks and passenger cars move at snail’s pace; it could take as much as 30 minutes, sometimes more, to find your way out of the peninsula. Over 10,000 people live in Jätkäsaari, and the City of Helsinki has planned to double the number of inhabitants by 2030 to create an urban, densely built city district.

But is the West Harbor the optimal location for commercially productive shipping in the effort to urbanize the area? A scenario work by the Port of Helsinki, prepared at the request of Mayor Jan Vapaavuori of Helsinki, aimed to find out.

The scenario work involved the examination of three different options from the perspective of traffic and travel forecasts, customer views, investment needs and technological development up until 2040.

  • 1. Basic scenario: operations continue in the current harbor parts
  • 2. West Harbor scenario: centralization of the traffic of the center ports
  • 3. Vuosaari scenario: extension of the port of Vuosaari to become a passenger port

Following is an analysis of the results in a statement released by the city:

The basic scenario allows the development of the most commercially productive shipping, and would therefore be the best solution for the Port of Helsinki and its customers. In the scenario, traffic flow problems in the city center will remain, and would require decisions by the city to streamline the street network.

In the West Harbor scenario, passenger numbers decrease slightly but traffic in the city center would be smoother. This scenario would require a separate traffic solution, a port to Länsiväylä road tunnel. In the South Harbor area, land would be freed for other development by the city.

The most demanding scenario is the West Harbor scenario, in which Tallinn traffic would be centralized in Vuosaari. This option would require substantial investments, but despite this passenger numbers would significantly decrease. The scenario would also require the expansion of the port area within the sphere of influence of a sensitive Natura nature site and, besides, the extended route would increase emissions from shipping. This option is a challenge for business and Helsinki’s strategic goals.

CEO of the Port of Helsinki Ltd. Ville Haapasaari said in the statement: “The Port of Helsinki has such great importance for the vitality of the Helsinki metropolitan area and for the functionality of logistics in Finland as a whole that future decisions require good preliminary information. The study provides the foundations for good public debate and political decision-making.”

It’s understandable that the scenario work conducted by the port examines the options for maximum profits. A complementary study was conducted to help balance the results.

This complementary scenario work, the so-called Hesarama study, was commissioned by the City of Helsinki, the Port of Helsinki Ltd, and the Finnish Shipowners’ Association and analyzed the future through four options.

  • Basic scenario 0: Current situation
  • Scenario 1: 1a) Concentration of traffic in the center of the West Harbor or 1b) Tallinn traffic to West Harbor and Sweden traffic to Katajanokka
  • Scenario 2: Transfer of passenger traffic to Vuosaari
  • Scenario 3: Separation of freight and passenger traffic from each other

The study examined the impact of the various options on transport arrangements, land use, passenger and freight business and logistics and the environment and tourism sector.

The following is the analysis of the city:

In the current situation scenario, operations were currently expected to continue through the existing port facilities and investment plans. If realized, this option would bring growth to passenger and freight traffic volumes, but traffic problems would be expected to become even more acute.

In the scenario whereby traffic would be centralized in the center (scenario 1a and 1b), the implementation of a separate transport solution, the port-Länsiväylä road tunnel, is essential to prevent the traffic problems in the Jätkäsaari region from worsening as the volumes in West Harbor increase further.

The scenario whereby passenger traffic is transferred to West Harbor would require significant investments and would result in a decrease in the number of passengers in ship transportation, which would also have negative economic impacts on the Helsinki metropolitan area. However, this scenario would free up valuable land for the city for real estate investments and recreational use.

The separation of freight and passenger traffic from each other would potentially present a critical challenge for shipping companies in terms of the profitability of operations. The current fleet is not able to respond profitably to the change, and renewing the equipment within a short period of time presents an economic challenge for existing operators.

Based on the Hesarama study, the current situation scenario and the scenario for concentrating traffic in the center offer the most opportunities for growth. The other two scenarios involve significant commercial and environmental risks.