Istanbul Bridge Plans Trouble the Water: Route for Controversial Third Bosphorus Span Announced

bosphorus bridge protest istanbul photo

A early anti-bridge protest after preliminary plans were announced in 2009. Photo: John Crofoot

"Where are they going to build that bridge? I want to go chain myself to something," a coworker said this week after the Turkish government announced the route for a third bridge over Istanbul's Bosphorus Strait. The plans to add a new span -- and all the roads that would go along with it -- have prompted strong opposition as residents try to figure out how it will affect the city and their lives.

In the small fishing villages of Garipçe and Poyrazköy, located on opposite shores of the continent-splitting waterway near where it meets the Black Sea, the news that the third bridge would pass through these two regions was greeted with a mixture of concern, hope, and confusion. Some locals expressed optimism that their businesses would boom as a result, while others envisioned only traffic, noise, and an end to the fresh air and natural beauty that the area still enjoys.

New Traffic Will 'Choke The City'
The government plans to put the new bridge out for bid within the year, Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım said at a press conference announcing the project. The 1.3-kilometer span and the new 260-kilometer-long motorway that will be built along with it are expected to be completed within four or five years at a cost of roughly $6 billion. Istanbul's two existing Bosphorus bridges were opened in 1973 and 1988.

One of the strong voices in opposition to the project has been the Greater Istanbul branch of the Chamber of Architects, whose Mücella Yapıcı spoke to the news site Bianet about the group's concerns. "The city's life force will be extinguished," she said:

Istanbul is already a city that has exceeded its natural ecological boundaries, and mostly responsible for this are the two existing Bosphorus bridges and the ring roads leading to them. Seventy-five percent of the new route is made up of forest areas and water depots to the north of the city. Large-scale construction, the concomitant settlement, and [the] unplanned traffic load will choke the city.

bosphorus bridge istanbul photo

Two is enough: Plans for a third bridge over Istanbul's Bosphorus Strait have sparked opposition. Photo: Jennifer Hattam

Officials say the new bridge is necessary to ease traffic congestion in the rapidly growing city, but, Yapıcı added, "all scientific studies show that bridges increase the traffic load. The solution lies in public transportation." (Though some early news reports about the bridge said it would integrate a rail system, such a measure has not been discussed in the recent announcements. The city has, however, launched new ferry lines across the Bosphorus and is nearing completion of an underwater tunnel for rail in a different location.)

'A Real Scandal'
Yıldırım and other officials, including Environment and Forestry Minister Veysel Eroğlu, have repeatedly stated that the project will cause no or minimal damage to the environment. It seems unlikely, though, that work of such a large scale across Istanbul's cherished waterway and near one of the city's few remaining forests, which provides both water and respite to urban dwellers, would fail to have an impact.

Gürsel Tekin, the head of the Istanbul branch of the country's main opposition party, has claimed that the bridge is not in the city's official plan and is being built over the opposition of Istanbul's mayor, calling it "a real scandal."

"The main aim of this $6 billion project is to channel money into the car, logistics, and construction sectors," Yapıcı from the Chamber of Architects told Bianet. "This money comes out of our pockets, and we Istanbulites will pay the cost in terms of reduced living standards."

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