There is a rather long history of road construction in Iceland as transport has always been important for the country’s population. Iceland’s first engineer was hired 130 years ago, in 1893, and held a position that later became Chief Civil Engineer. In 1918, the position was divided into two positions: Director of Roads and Director of Lighthouses. From there the institution Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration was developed.

National Engineer

There is a rather long history of road construction in Iceland as transport has always been important for the country’s population. Iceland’s first engineer was hired 130 years ago, in 1893, and held a position that later became Chief Civil Engineer. The first Chief Civil Engineer was Sigurður Thoroddsen, who was also the first Icelander to become an engineer. Sigurður held the position until 1904, after which he taught at Lærði skóli, the predecessor to Reykjavík College. Two others held the position of Chief Civil Engineer, Jón Þorláksson and Thorvald Krabbe.

In 1918, the position was divided into two positions; Director of Roads (Geir G. Zoega) and the Director of Lighthouses (Thorvald Krabbe.) From there the institution Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration was developed.


Vegagerð á sér nokkuð langa sögu á Íslandi enda hafa samgöngur alla tíð skipt miklu máli fyrir byggð í landinu. Fyrsti verkfræðingur landsins var ráðinn árið 1893 eða fyrir 130 árum, það stöðuheiti varð síðar að embætti landsverkfræðings. Fyrsti landsverkfræðingurinn var Sigurður Thoroddsen en hann var jafnframt fyrsti Íslendingurinn til að ljúka prófi í verkfræði. Sigurður gegndi embætti til 1904 en tók þá við starfi kennara við Lærða skólann í Reykjavík. Tveir aðrir gegndu embætti landsverkfræðings, þeir Jón Þorláksson og Thorvald Krabbe.

Árið 1918 var því embætti skipt í tvennt, í embætti vegamálastjóra (Geir G. Zoega) og vitamálastjóra (Thorvald Krabbe). Út frá því þróaðist stofnunin Vegagerð ríkisins sem nú heitir Vegagerðin.

Construction during the initial years

Construction was modest to begin with, and, in 1894, there was discussion to construct roads for transport of loaded carriages during the summertime. Paths east from Reykjavík, to Rangárvallasýsla and towards Geysir, were the focus points. Also, rural areas of Árnessýsla, Eyrarbakki, Borgarfjörður, and the rural areas outside of Blönduós, Sauðárkrókur, Akureyri, Húsavík, Búðareyri in Reyðarfjörður, and around Fagridalur. Later came road construction across moors such as Mosfellsheiði, Hellisheiði, Holtavörðuheiði, Grímstunguheiði, and Hrútafjarðarháls.

The projects were endless, as is now. A bridge across Ölfusá river was built in 1891, across Þjórsá in 1895, and across Blanda in 1897. All three bridges were designed and made abroad until 1912 when the bridge over Ytri-Rangá river was built; the first bridge to be fully constructed in Iceland.

By this time, automobiles had arrived and road use increased, an increase that has since continued with no end in sight. IRCA began to add to its equipment and in 1920 purchased four vehicles for gravel transport, followed by a road compactor and crushing machinery. During World War II, even more industrial machinery arrived for road construction.

The development of the road system

The road system as grown extensively since the beginning of the 20th Century. In 1917 the road system measured around 500 kilometres. Eight years later, there were 612km of roadways and 712km of carriage roads. In 1946, after World War II, there were 4,400km of roads. During that time the focus was not only on lengthening the road system and building more bridges, but also to strengthen and elevate the existing roads.

This work continued past 1970. A large milestone on the road to a modern road system was when the ring road was completed with the addition of a bridges in Skeiðarársandur in 1974. In a way, the road system was, in all main aspects, the same as it is now.

The projects kept piling on and from 1970 the emphasis was placed on paving the gravel roads. In early 1980, a large initiative was carried out, where in some years more than 300km of roads were paved. The coating used was an adequate solution for less travelled Icelandic roads. It supported the traffic at the time and was much cheaper than asphalt, resulting in greater lengths of paved roads. Single-lane coating was even used to cover more kilometres. Icelanders craved less potholes and dust.

In 1994, 2,840km of highways had been paved. Currently, a little less than 6,000km out of 13,000km of highways are paved. Despite the large percentage of gravel roads, 97% of all traffic is on paved roads and increasingly on asphalted roads. An emphasis is placed on replacing coating with asphalt to meet the increasing traffic.

Challenges of our times

The biggest challenge in today’s road construction is the widening of roads and separating driving directions, and thereby increasing traffic safety. Furthermore, there are multiple large projects when it comes to renovating bridges.

Increased tourism in Iceland has completely changed the Icelandic environment, since a large portion of the three million tourists that travel to Iceland each year choose to travel on their own by renting a car. This poses many challenges for IRCA, both in terms of an improved road system and services for tourists as well as the Icelandic public. There is an increasing demand for better winter services, due to an ever growing number of tourists during the winter. This also calls for an effective information dissemination in more languages than Icelandic.

Information on driving conditions and road conditions on is currently available in English and Polish, as well as Icelandic. Focus areas of IRCA have thus changed throughout the years and in fact quite radically. IRCA’s projects are also increasingly varied, with road system service, services for travellers, operation of tunnels, and administration of public transport, whether on land, at sea, or in the air. IRCA also consults on the design of port structures, carries out sea defences, operates Landeyjarhöfn and 103 lighthouses, as well as monitoring ocean currents. Seafarers obtain information from IRCA via the website Multifaceted research is conducted, be it road or port construction, and other aspects regarding the ocean.

The importance of transport is unequivocal and modern society can hardly prosper without the artery of transport structures being accessible all year round. This becomes crystal clear when closures occur on traffic-heavy roads. In addition, it should be kept in mind that the road system is the most expensive property of the nation, and that it needs to be maintained for the benefit of all.

Historical overview


  • 1894 Drivable paths for transport first mentioned in Icelandic law.
  • 1912 The first steel bridge completely made in Iceland, across Ytri-Rangá river.
  • 1917 The road system estimated to be around 500km
  • 1918 The office of the Chief Civil Engineer becomes two separate positions; Director of Roads and Director of Lighthouses.
  • 1926 IRCA acquires its first road grader
  • 1930 The road system around 1,500km
  • 1946 Drivable roads around 4,400km
  • 1970~ The start of the project of building paved roads all around the country
  • 1974 The ring road opens
  • 1994 Paved highways in Iceland reach 2,840km Registered vehicles in Iceland around 132,000*
  • 2018 Paved roads in Iceland around 5,700km out of 13,000km Registered vehicles in Iceland around 311,000*
  • 2019 The ring road fully paved
  • 2023 There were approximately 140 single-lane bridges on the Ring Road in 1990. With the opening of bridges across Núpsvötn and Hverfisfljót in 2023 they are now down to 29.

The Icelandic Road Museum

IRCA operates the Icelandic Road Museum, or Vegminjasafnið.

The Icelandic Road Museum has a history spanning a few decades. Various items and information from earlier times have been gathered, and some old road machinery has been renovated for preservation. The beginnings of the museum can be traced back to IRCA’s employee association collecting old items in connection with road building. In early 1989, IRCA took over the management of the museum.

The museum owns a considerable number of items, tools, and equipment. There are road making machines, worksheds, tents, photographs, measurement equipment, office items, traffic signs, building tools, saddlery, models, and much more.

The Icelandic Road Museum has the whole country as its venue. Naturally, some relics of the museum are of the type that cannot be displayed in buildings. For example old roads and bridges.

In 2002, the Technical Museum in Skógar entered into an agreement with IRCA, to exhibit the Icelandic Transport Museum’s pieces. The Technical Museum is now a part of the Skógar Regional Museum.

The Icelandic Road Museum occupies one section of the Technical Museum, where various pieces are showcased, such as a front loader, road grader, steam roller, snow truck, work tent with equipment, and more.

Further details on the Icelandic Road Museum can be found in the article The Icelandic Road Museum from 2007.


The Icelandic Road Museum - Article published in 2007 (link)