Turkey: On the Bosphorus, Government Going a Bridge Too Far?

In a recent blog post, I suggested Turkey is turning into a "constructocracy," with an economy driven by the construction sector and ruled by a government that never met a large infrastructure or building project it didn't like, no matter how destructive to the environment or unnecessary it was.

The construction continues apace, with today's groundbreaking ceremony for a new $3 billion bridge across the Bosphorus, which separates Europe and Asia. Hurriyet Daily News provides some background on the bridge, which will be the third span to cross the body of water and which will be the world's widest when completed:

The construction of Istanbul’s third bridge on the Bosporus was tendered for last year as part of the north Marmara motorway project’s Odayeri-Paşaköy section. The tender was then awarded to a consortium consisting of the Turkish IC İçtaş and the Italian Astaldi that submitted the bid with the shortest term of construction and operation, 10 years two months and 20 days.

The bridge is to be constructed under a build-operate-transfer model, in which private companies build the bridge and will have the right to collect tolls from vehicles using the bridge for a period of time before handing the bridge over to the state.

The consortium is expected to complete the construction of the bridge in 36 months, at a total cost of about $4.5 billion, after the contract is signed. “The bridge should be ready for use by the end of 2015,” Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım had said earlier.

According to the Turkish Transport Ministry, the new six-lane bridge, which is expected to be about 1.3 km in length, will be built to the north of the two existing ones, between the Garipçe district on the European side and the Poyrazköy district on the Asian side. Unlike the two existing bridges, which only carry road vehicles, the new bridge will also include rail tracks.

The groundbreaking ceremony was filled with borderline overcooked symbolism, taking place on the day of the 560th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The bridge, meanwhile, will be named after Yavuz Sultan Selim (aka Selim the Grim), an Ottoman ruler famed for his conquests in the east, perhaps an allusion to the bridge's rail tracks, which will likely link up to a series of rail projects Turkey is working on that could ultimately create a railway network that extends all the way to China.

The big question, of course, is if Istanbul really needs another bridge across the Bosphorus. The government's answer is a resounding "yes," arguing that the new bridge will help relieve congestion on the perpetually traffic-chocked other two bridges and that the northern route of the new bridge, through what is now mostly forest, will help divert traffic from more populated areas. What is more likely to happen, critics of the bridge say, is that it will simply create a third crossing with bad traffic and pull development and population growth into what had previously been green spaces. Reports Today's Zaman:

The Turkish Foundation for Reforestation, Protection of Natural Habitats and Combating Soil Erosion (TEMA) also voiced its criticisms about the construction of the third bridge, which it described as being “illegal” in a press statement on Wednesday.

“As TEMA, we see the issue of the third bridge not as an issue to do with İstanbul's traffic problem but about how we dream of Turkey in the future. With rapid transformation projects, İstanbul is fighting against very serious urban problems. Unplanned development leads to the destruction of water basins, which are the life-support systems of the city, agricultural fields, forests and meadows. It should not be forgotten that the third bridge, whose foundation has been laid, will mean more carbon emission, deforestation and less carbon sequestration,” TEMA said in its statement.

As writer Andrew Finkel pointed out in a 2011 piece in the International Herald Tribune about the third bridge project, the reason the second Bosphorus bridge was built was because traffic on the first one had become so unbearable, which should serve as a warning about any claims made about the new bridge's traffic easing qualities. As Haluk Gercek, a professor of transport planning at Istanbul Technical University, told Finkel at the time: "“This has nothing to do with solving the traffic and everything to do with developing property.”

Turkey: On the Bosphorus, Government Going a Bridge Too Far?

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