Building bridges… will Istanbul get a third?

Will Istanbul get the controversial third Bosphorus bridge? Development was planned to start this year, but it seems it’s a rough road full of potholes./strong>

Traffic. That’s all I’m saying, and if you’ve been to Istanbul, I need not explain. If you can’t picture an intercontinental traffic jam (you know, the ones that happen somewhere between Asia and Europe), take a taxi tour at peak hour across one of the Bosphorus bridges. Or even at 2am in the morning. Then you’ll know the very inspiration for building a third bridge across the Bosphorus Strait. Probably, you’ll even be swearing for it.

But to build or not to build has become a hot debate. The original plan to erect a third bridge and rail track across the Bosphorus has slammed into a roadblock. Choked traffic on the other two bridges suggests a third is sorely needed to reduce the traffic gridlock. But activist claim it ignores a proven fact: providing another excuse for residents to use their polluting cars increases traffic, not reduces it. Plus, the development will destroy the green areas that cover 75% of the proposed new route, and let’s be frank – Istanbul needs all the green it can get.

But the fight between developers and environmental activists has become old news. The blaring horn died in January 2012 when no one even bid to develop the project. Awkward silence. In a tender that apparently involved 18 prominent foreign and local contractors, the estimated $6 billion project received a total of….zero. And yes, the ‘c’ word was blamed (no, not that word… I mean ‘crisis’).

The response? A celebration by the anti-bridge group of some 2 million Istanbulites, who believe developing public transport facilities should be the focus instead.

But is the ‘funding crunch’ all to blame?

Possibly not – there’s something dark hidden in the glove box. A claim by four chambers of the Turkish Union Engineers’ and Architects’ Chambers (TMMOB) report the auction itself was a crime. According to the law, it’s illegal to auction a contested issue that is involved in a court case. And yes, a lawsuit launched by TMMOB against the development is still proceeding in an Ankara court.

Will they win? A previous environmental governmental plan did not incorporate for another bridge to be built. A later report signed by the government says it will. Contradictory much? It’ll be settled in court.

Besides, it would take a brave investor to fork out billions of dollars for a project that is highly protested against by environmentalists, urban planners, and other concerned citizens. Plus, some consider the green areas and wetlands to be a vital factor for the city’s ecological sustainability. What will absorb all the extra pollution? And if the population burst around the previous two bridges is taken into consideration, the final development will include much more than just a bridge.

Yes, the private tender has been cancelled for now. The government appears unfazed. They say they have a ‘Plan B’.

Will it involve axing the bridge or using state funds instead? Probably the latter.

What is the project exactly? It’s more than just a mere ‘project’. The total development is actually the North Marmara Highway, which will include some 414km of road from Adapazarı to Tekirdağ (cities to either side of Istanbul). Included in that project is the third bridge across the Bosphorus. It’s labeled as the country’s second-biggest build-operate-transfer scheme, enough to earn it the title of ‘mega-project’.

So which side of the bridge do you sit? To build or not to build?

Meet the author


After leaving Australia in 2003, Casey's path landed her in Istanbul for a summer stint only. Once addicted to Istanbul's eccentricity and charm, Casey failed to find reason to leave six years later. An avid traveller of sorts, Casey spent most of her time roaming across Europe and the Middle East looking for adventure and cultural experiences. Now a freelance editor and writer working from Madrid, Casey spends her days finding the words to excite the inner traveller in everyone.