ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan opened a massive suspension bridge across Turkey’s Dardanelles Strait on Friday (Mar 18), the latest in a series of major infrastructure projects which he has prioritised during his two decades in power.
Connecting Turkey’s European and Asian shores, the 1915 Canakkale Bridge was built by Turkish and South Korean firms with an investment of 2.5 billion euros (US$2.8 billion). It has the longest main span – the distance between the two towers – of any suspension bridge in the world.
Such mega projects have been central to Erdogan’s achievements since his AK Party first came to power in 2002, including a new Istanbul airport, rail and road tunnels beneath Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait, and a bridge over it.
“These works will continue to provide profit for the state for many years,” Erdogan said at an opening ceremony on the anniversary of a 1915 Ottoman naval victory against French and British forces in the Dardanelles during World War One.
“These projects have a large share in putting our country ahead in investment, workforce and exports,” he said.
Last year he launched what he previously called his “crazy project”: a US$15 billion canal in Istanbul intended to relieve pressure on the busy Bosphorus Strait. However critics have questioned the project’s viability given Turkey’s economic woes, environmental risks and public opposition.
Ahead of national elections scheduled for 2023, opinion polls have shown a slide in the popularity of Erdogan and his AK Party, boosting the opposition’s prospects of ousting him.
The main opposition CHP has criticised the potential cost of the bridge to the public purse, with media reports saying the build-operate-transfer agreement includes an annual payment guarantee of 380 million euros (US$420 million) to the operators or a total 6 billion euros over the duration of the accord.
Erdogan said the price for passenger vehicles to use the bridge would be 200 lira (US$13.50).
Work on the Dardanelles bridge project was launched in March 2017, with more than 5,000 workers involved in the construction.
The 2,023m length of its midspan is an allusion to the Turkish Republic’s 100th anniversary in 2023.
It is the fourth bridge linking the European and Asian shores in Turkey, alongside the three built in Istanbul.
Its towers are 318m high and the total length of the bridge is 4.6 km (2.9 miles) including the approach viaducts.
Until now, vehicles travelling between Anatolia and the Gallipoli peninsula had to cross the Dardanelles in a one-hour ferry journey, which including waiting time amounted to as much as five hours. The journey will now take around six minutes.