Turkey aims to complete Kanal Istanbul, a mega waterway project on the edge of Istanbul, in six years at a cost of approximately $15 billion (TL 131.49 billion), President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Saturday.
The president said that the income to be obtained from the ships passing through the canal and other elements of the project, especially the planned port, will allow Kanal Istanbul to “easily finance itself,” enabling Turkey to complete “another world-class work financed with its own revenues” without any burden on the government.
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Sazlıdere bridge, which marked the official starting of the canal project, Erdoğan said that the government is opening a new page in the history of the Turkish republic.
Erdoğan said that a total of six bridges will be built on Kanal Istanbul, one of which was laid Saturday.
“We regard Kanal Istanbul as a project to save the future of Istanbul,” the president said. He noted that on average 45,000 ships pass through the Bosporus yearly, while the number was about 3,000 in 1931.
“Projections show that this number will reach 78,000 in 2050 ... The passage of each large ship poses a danger to the city. In the Bosporus, there is heavy traffic of ships of all classes and capacities, both in North-South and East-West directions,” he said.
Stating that the aim of the Kanal Istanbul project is to ensure the safety of citizens and property along the Bosporus, Erdoğan said the project will also secure the historical and cultural integrity of the Bosporus.
“Reducing the waiting times at the exit of the Bosporus and eliminating the problems caused by the difficulty of navigation in the strait are also among the objectives of the project. Surely, we need to add other strategic elements to these, as our country plays a more active role in global trade and gets a larger share from transportation and logistics corridors,” he said.
The project envisages 500,000-person capacity settlement areas and the creation of alternative settlement areas in order to prepare the metropolis for earthquakes.
Commenting on these aspects, Erdoğan described the project as very "fruitful" as it offers a host of benefits.
“Since April 27, 2011, when we shared the idea of Kanal Istanbul with our nation, the project has been worked out to the smallest detail. First the route, then the drilling and preliminary project, the survey project, then the detailed field and environmental impact assessment (EIA) process was carried out with laboratory studies,” he said.
Emphasizing that the current route was one of five options and selected after it was determined to be the most efficient and reasonable through scientific studies, the president said that a total of 204 experts with 51 scientists from 11 different universities took part in the project.
More than 17,000 meters of drilling and 248 geophysical surveys were carried out in 304 different places along the canal line.
The model studies, meanwhile, Erdoğan added, included 3,500 people from the world's leading engineering centers in model studies in 35 different countries.
In addition to the bridge being laid, a series of other infrastructure projects are to be completed before the canal excavation begins, ranging from railways and drinking and wastewater systems, to natural gas and electricity.
Expressing that the container port and logistics center, which will be located just to the right of the Black Sea exit of the canal, will bring new life to the country's foreign trade, Erdoğan noted that the recreation and renewable energy area to the left of the Black Sea exit will add special value to Istanbul.
Also speaking during the ceremony, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu said the bridge for which “we laid the foundation today, is a part of the 45-kilometer Başakşehir-Bahçeşehir-Hadımköy road, and will also provide the passage of the Sazlıdere section of Kanal Istanbul.”
Karaismailoğlu highlighted that one of the most important components of the transportation sector are the waterways and maritime transportation.
“Today, the increase in ship traffic in the Bosporus, where an average of 45,000 ships passes per year, the increase in ship sizes and especially the increase in tanker crossings carrying dangerous goods such as fuel pose a great pressure and threat on the world heritage city of Istanbul. There is a very serious risk of accident to the city ferries and ferries that carry 500,000 passengers a day,” he stressed.
Considering that the annual capacity for the safe passage of ships using the Bosporus is only 25,000, it is understandable that the ship traffic load, which stands at approximately 45,000 today but will increase to 78,000 in the coming years, threatens how safely vessels can navigate the waters as well as life, property and the environment along and in the Bosporus, Karaismailoğlu said, recalling an event from last week. “We are in pain when two of our fishermen lost their lives as a result of the collision of a cargo ship with a fishing boat. These clearly show how much need there is for an alternative transit route in the Bosporus.”
Touching on other major transport and infrastructure projects, the minister said the state-of-the-art Istanbul Airport, the Northern Marmara Highway that eased Istanbul's traffic, ports and railway connections together with Kanal Istanbul, one of the biggest projects in the world, "will connect the world to Turkey."
Championed by President Erdoğan and revealed in 2011, Kanal Istanbul is one of Turkey’s most strategic megaprojects, meant to stem the rising risk posed by ships carrying dangerous goods via the Bosporus, especially oil tankers.
The 45-kilometer (27.96-mile) long canal, which will be built through Istanbul’s Küçükçekmece-Sazlıdere-Durusu corridor, will connect the Black Sea north of Istanbul to the Marmara Sea in the south. It will boast a capacity of 160 vessels a day and is expected to create significant economic value by reducing transit periods and costs while at the same time providing a return through the collection of passage fees.
However, critics point to the project's possible environmental effects on the Marmara Sea and the city itself through effects on water resources and a possible construction boom alongside the canal's route. In addition, the project's massive cost is also a point of contention with critics who argue that such funds could be diverted to various other issues of priority, including an urgent urban renewal drive pending ahead of a major earthquake expected to hit the city.
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