Government prioritizes Istanbul Canal as tension rises with Russia


Amid discussions on the rights of Russian Naval ships to pass through Turkish Straits, the government has put priority on the long-debated Istanbul Canal project. According to the government action plan for 2016, legislation on the Istanbul Canal project - a mega construction project to build a canal between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara through Thrace in Istanbul - will be introduced by the end of June 2016.

The Istanbul Canal Project was proposed in 2011 during the prime ministry of current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and is commonly referred to as the "crazy project." Originally, the project was to be put out to tender by the end of 2013. However, sources have indicated that the government is finally expected to announce a tender for the project within the next two months and start construction within one year. The project will be implemented as one of the targets for 2023, and will generate revenue by charging the vessels crossing the canal according to their tonnage.According to the finalized details of the project, a mega city will be built on the two shores of the Istanbul Canal with around 500,000 homes. The mega city's buildings will have a maximum of six floors each, and six bridges will be built over the canal. The approximate cost for the entire project is estimated at $20 billion.

The project aims to put an end to heavy shipping traffic in the Bosporus. Approximately 150 to 160 vessels pass through the canal on a daily basis, making this project a way to offer easy access to all business centers, industrial areas and workplaces with its multiple-model approach. Bridges will support infrastructure and settlement efficiency, and reap benefits from various public transportation routes. Large intersections and fast train stops are seen in a white circle in the project file submitted to Erdoğan, while local metro and tram stations are marked with a thicker line. Furthermore, these areas link large settlement areas with strategic business centers, and links between all other transportation methods have been shown in the project file.

Passage through the Turkish Straits, the Bosporus and Dardanelles, are regulated by a 1936 multinational treaty, the Montreux Convention. The convention gives Turkey full control over the straits and guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime. However, after last week's incident with a Russian Navy ship, the Tsesar Kunikov, which passed through the Bosporus with soldiers armed with Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS), Turkish officials are considering blocking Russian ships in the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits if tensions with Russia escalate. Turkey is planning to have full control and better regulation over heavy Bosporus shipping traffic with the completion of the Istanbul Canal.

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