Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced Wednesday that he plans to build a major new water channel connecting the Black Sea and Marmara Sea to reduce traffic on the heavily congested Bosphorus.
The “Istanbul Canal” would cut through the city’s European side, measuring 40 to 50 kilometers long, about 150 meters wide and 25 meters deep, Erdoğan told a packed and raucous crowd that had assembled at the Istanbul Congress Center to hear the prime minister announce his long-secret “crazy project” for Istanbul.
More than 1,000 people – most of them members of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP – attended the speech, often interrupting the prime minister to shout out his praises and chant slogans like “Turkey is proud of you.”
In his speech, Erdoğan talked about his “dreams” for Istanbul, making comparisons with the dreams of people such as Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the conqueror of the city, and prominent 16th-century Ottoman architect Sinan before unveiling his plan for the second strait.
“There have been always big dreams behind the big steps and big victories in history. And now we have a dream for our nation and Istanbul. We are rolling up our sleeves for ‘Kanal Istanbul,’ one of the greatest projects of the century that will outshine the Panama and Suez canals,” Erdoğan told the audience.
The project, he said, will transform Istanbul’s geography into “two peninsulas and one island.”
Erdoğan said the preliminary studies and the drawing up of the project are expected to take two years, starting after the general election in June. The expected completion date is 2023.
The prime minister declined to disclose either the exact location for the waterway or its estimated cost. “This is a secret; I won’t give this information in order to avoid speculations,” he said, adding that “financing will not be a problem.”
Residential and business areas, complete with an airport that would be Istanbul’s third, will be built on the banks of the new waterway, he said.
“There will be income coming from the housing and residential areas as well as the highways around the canal,” Erdoğan said.
140 million tons of oil
The prime minister said the project aims to minimize the threat posed to the city by the transportation of hazardous materials on tankers through the narrow, 30-kilometer-long Bosphorus Strait.
“One of the main objectives is to reduce traffic through the Bosphorus and minimize the environmental threat,” he said.
According to Erdoğan, ships carry 140 million tons of oil, 4 million tons of liquefied petroleum gas and 3 million tons of chemicals through the Bosphorus annually, threatening the nearly 2 million people living and working on the banks of the waterway.
The Bosphorus, which bisects Istanbul, is the world’s fourth busiest waterway, and together with the Dardanelles Strait, connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. It is difficult to navigate because of its sinuous geography and treacherous currents.
Erdoğan said the new channel would afford the daily passage of up to 160 vessels, including the largest ships, and would have bridges to allow car traffic.
Critics cautious on project
“I wouldn’t say it is a ‘crazy’ project [as the prime minister calls it]. This is a century-old idea,” Korhan Gümüş, an architect and chairman of the Human Settlement Association, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday, adding that he did not expect such a project to relieve Istanbul’s traffic problems.
“I still do not understand the purpose of the project. Do we want to change the geography?” asked Gümüş, emphasizing that the prime minister has not shared enough details on the plan and its economic and other costs to call it a “project.”
“Rather than a project, just a will [to do something] has been expressed,” Gümüş said. “The ‘project’ might even be thought of as a plan to increase the value of land in the area where the waterway is planned to be built.”
Gümüş also expressed his reservations on the identity of the project team being kept secret. “This is a large and serious urban project and the public has the right to know the team that prepared it,” he said. “Such a project may not come to life just because the prime minister says so. It must be debated and developed in a more systematic way.”
“It is crucial to see the reason why such a project would be realized,” Orhan Demir, a member of the Istanbul City Planners Chamber, told the Daily News on Wednesday. He added that if the main aim is to decrease the number of tankers passing through the Bosphorus, this would not be a good justification.
“There are already alternative projects aiming to decrease traffic in the strait, such as oil pipeline projects,” said Demir.
Mehmet Gürkan, a city planner and deputy secretary general of the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture agency disagreed with the critics, calling Erdoğan’s plan a very important project for the region.
“I believe it will relieve the excessive sea traffic through the Bosphorus Strait,” Mehmet Gürkan told the Daily News on Wednesday.
The project is crucial regarding protection of the settled areas surrounding the Bosphorus strait, according to Gürkan, who added, however, that further details of the project have to be revealed in order to assess its positive and negative points.
Source : Hurriyet Daily News