Controversial Third Bosphorus Span in Istanbul Becomes the Bridge that No One Wanted to Build

Fede Ranghino/CC BY 2.0
Traffic crossing the Bosphorus Strait.

Global financial woes have dealt what appears to be a heavy blow to a controversial bridge- and road-building project in Istanbul, cheering activists whose outcry against the plans had gone largely unheard by officials.

Eighteen "prominent foreign and local contractors" had been believed to be ready to bid this week on the job of building a third bridge over Istanbul's Bosphorus Strait, a mega-project that includes 414 kilometers of road, according to the the local paper Hürriyet Daily News.

'Funding Crunch' Killed Bridge Bids
But when it came down to it, the estimated $5 billion project received a grand total of zero bids, Reuters reported, citing an "international funding crunch" as the major deterrent.

Environmentalists, urban planners, and other concerned citizens have been protesting the bridge, which Turkey had hoped to begin building this year, since plans for the third span were announced. Citing data showing that building more roads would not ease the horrendous congestion on the two existing bridges, they say the project would needlessly destroy some of the city's few remaining green spaces and accelerate its already rapid sprawl, an argument spelled out in compelling detail in the recent documentary films "Overdrive: Istanbul in the New Millennium" and "Ecumenopolis: City Without Limits."

Third Bridge Plans 'Absurd' And 'Illogical'
Following the cancellation of the project tender, the anti-bridge umbrella group 2 Million Istanbulites issued a press statement this afternoon celebrating the setback for what it described as an "absurd, illogical, senseless, and solution-less project":

"That the third bridge is a project that should not be carried out should have been obvious from the beginning. You would spend $6 billion, cut down 2 million trees, destroy wildlife habitat, ruin water sources, block the north winds, poison Istanbul's air, and build up the last remaining green spaces ... and on top of it all, not resolve the traffic problem, but aggravate it."

While only financial concerns were cited in the project's failure to receive any bids, it's hard not to wonder if building companies are becoming a bit reluctant to get involved in the Turkish government's insistent push to execute large construction works in the face of strong public opposition and often uncertain benefits.

Government Still Pushing 'Plan B'
Plans for a third bridge have been on the table since the early 1990s, with previously considered routes shot down multiple times by public opposition. Turkey has been trying to build its first nuclear power plant for 50 years, and the massive Ilısu Dam for at least 30 years, persisting with the latter project despite its abandonment by international funders.

The government took a similar go-it-alone stance to the failure of the bridge tender, with Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım citing unspecified "alternative plans" that would be implemented as needed: "If no companies bid for the third bridge, we will launch our plan B. If we receive no offers, nothing would change for us."

A different kind of "plan B" is a good idea, according to members of 2 Million Istanbulites, who called for the focus to shift to alternative, more sustainable projects such as the improvement of rail networks and ferry transportation.

Tags: Driving | Transportation | Turkey | Urban Planning

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