28 JUNE 2021
On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Sazlidere Bridge, part of the Northern Marmara Highway project. Erdogan described it as the long-awaited launch of construction for the massive Kanal Istanbul project, which would cut a bypass route from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, paralleling the Bosporus.
“This is not a fountain opening ceremony,” Erdogan said. “Today we are laying the foundations of one of the exemplary canals in the world.”
The canal project, announced in 2011, has been estimated by outside experts to cost in the range of $40 to $50 billion; recent government projections put the cost between $15 and $65 billion – well above the cost for the New Panama Canal ($5 billion) and the Suez Canal ($8 billion). It would be deep and wide enough to accommodate VLCCs.
Erdogan’s AK Party says that the canal would provide relief to vessel traffic on the Bosporus, shifting some of the 48,000 vessels per year that transit the strait onto a new route. Erdogan argues that the new canal is essential to improving maritime safety and reducing vessel wait times, as well as accommodating expected growth in shipping demand. Turkey’s parliament approved the project in April 2016, allocating land and laying the groundwork for construction tenders, but work on the waterway itself has still not begun.
The project’s detractors say that it would harm the marine environment in the Sea of Marmara, destroy some of the area’s last forest reserves, threaten Istanbul’s fresh water supply and heighten the risk of damage in the event of a major earthquake.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, the project’s most prominent opponent, noted that the bridge project launched Saturday had been in the planning since 2006 – long before the canal. “The construction of a bridge here has nothing to do with the canal project. It’s something to do with the road hub,” Imamoglu said.