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Turkey Moving Closer to Starting Work on Its Canal Istanbul Megaproject

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Turkey Moving Closer to Starting Work on Its Canal Istanbul Megaproject

Canal Istanbul proposal. Image by Foreign Policy. Click to see full-size image

On January 17th, Turkish Environment and Urbanization Ministry approved the report on the environmental impact of the Turkish megaproject – Canal Istanbul.

This removes yet another hurdle before the project.

Canal Istanbul is one of Turkey’s most strategic megaprojects, which is meant to reduce potential risks posed by ships carrying dangerous goods through the Bosphorus Strait.

The 45-kilometer (nearly 28-mile) canal, which will be built west of the city center on the European side of Istanbul province, is projected to have a capacity of 160 vessel transits a day.

Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum announced the approval of the ministry.

Calling Canal Istanbul as the freedom project of the Bosphorus, Kurum said: “Under the project, we will realize smart city applications and implement an exemplary urbanism model that will not top 500,000 inhabitants on both sides of the channel.”

The Bosphorus strait, which divides the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, already connects the two seas, and the passage of ships through the strait is regulated by the Montreux Convention.

The project was announced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2011, and was considered “crazy,” but almost 9 years later, work on it is almost ready to launch.

A new canal to the west of the city is expected to reduce traffic through the Bosphorus and mitigate the risks that arise from such traffic.

Turkish Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan claimed that initial revenue from ships passing through the canal would be $1 billion per year.

Erdogan appears is all for megaprojects. He built a third bridge over the Bosphorus, the third and largest airport in Istanbul, and many other large-scale infrastructure projects.

The above-mentioned environmental ministry assessment suggests that 200,878 trees will be affected by the project.

In the expected seven-year process of realizing the project, an average of 360 explosions a year will take place, and approximately 4,000 tons of ammonium nitrate fuel oil will be used, according to geological experts.

Approximately 1.5 billion m³ of earth will be excavated and more than 115 million m³ of material will come from the sea and bottom screening.

Environmentalists caution that because the Marmara Sea more salty than the Black Sea, a change in the salinity once they are joined could alter sea currents and temperatures, destroying marine life as a result.

Erdogan himself, has brushed aside environmental and financial concerns, and even he himself called his project “crazy.”

There’s even promotional videos advertising and attempting to gain popularity for the project.

The Canal Istanbul route would start from Kucukcekmece Lake, which is located between Istanbul’s districts of Esenyurt and Avcilar on the European side of the city, and will continue to the north passing Istanbul’s Sazlidere Dam and will reach the Black Sea from the east of Terkos Dam.

The width of the canal will change from 250 meters to 1 km allowing maneuvering space for ships.

The total cost of Canal Istanbul is expected to be over $20 billion. It is scheduled for completion in 2023, for the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic. It is unlikely that this timeline will be kept, as it was expected for work on the project to have begun by the end of 2019, and it hasn’t.

The government is expecting to generate $8 billion in revenue per year from Canal Istanbul, thanks in part to a service fee for transits.

In comparison, compared with the two most famous man-made waterways in the world is still impressive, if it becomes reality:

  • Canal Istanbul (width 150 m; length 50 km, beam max 77.5 m);
  • Panama Canal (width 62.5 m; length 80 km; beam 51.2 m);
  • Suez Canal (width 205 m; length 193 km; beam 51.2 m).

Canal Istanbul project includes also construction of ports (large container terminal in the Black Sea, close to the huge new Istanbul airport), logistic centers and artificial islands to be integrated with the canal.

The artificial islands will be built using soil dug for the canal.

The Halkali-Kapikule high-speed train, TCDD train projects as well as Yenikapi-Sefakoy-Beylikduzu and Mahmutbey-Esenyurt metro lines in Istanbul and the D-100 highway crossing, Tem highway, Sazlibosna highways are also to be integrated with the canal project.

Financing the canal is expected to be via a build-operate-transfer model, but could also be funded through public-private partnerships (PPP).

“Istanbul’s Bosporus is under constant threat of accidents as well as the separate political threat of the Montreux Convention,” Erdogan said in January.

“Whether they want it or not, we will build Channel Istanbul!” he declared.

The realization of the project would have massive impact in influence in the region, as well, not only for Turkey, but also for the US.

Currently, under the Montreux Convention, the US has imited access to the Black Sea, because of the limited tonnage that each country cannot keep more 30,000 tonnes of capacity in the Black Sea for a period of 21 days only.

The Canal Istanbul would not be subject to the convention. It is likely that Russia might oppose the project, since that would mean challenging its influence in the Black Sea, however, time will tell.

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