A huge underground road tunnel being built underneath the sea in Istanbul may be completed sooner than expected.
Istanbulites are hoping the enormous 14.6km ‘Eurasia Tunnel Project’ linking Kazlicesme on Istanbul’s European side and Goztepe in Asia will reduce the city's notorious traffic levels.
The project, also known as the Istanbul Strait, is set to open in 2016, the country’s transport minister said earlier this week.
Speaking at the tunnel’s construction site Lutfi Elvan said: "One-third of the tunnel is completed which means that 1.2km of the 5.4km section of the tunnel under the sea is finished. I think the tunnel will be completed sooner than we had expected."
Although the project aims to reduce congestion and relieve traffic density on the huge suspension bridges which cross the Bosphorus strait, it has also sparked a debate on whether it will be successful.
Living in Goztepe and working in Zeytinburnu, 39-year-old security guard S. Gunaydin is one of the millions of Istanbul residents for whom the Eurasia tunnel is intended.
"I have a car, but to drive from Goztepe to Zeytinburnu in the rush hour takes about two hours if I use the Bosphorus Bridge or else it takes four hours via Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.
“It is a nightmare," he tells the Anadolu Agency.
Stating that the tunnel project is cut out for him, Gunaydin says: "I will be able to use my car instead of using mass transport and pass through the tunnel in 15 minutes, but the passage fare will be $4 for each car. It can be expensive when compared to mass transport."
Istanbul is the second-worst European city after Moscow in terms of traffic congestion, according to 2012 data from Europe's biggest navigation systems company, TomTom.
In recent years, the city has persistently tried to tackle traffic problems.
"Istanbul has been struggling for more than two decades to solve this problem by redirecting traffic away from busy areas," says Mustafa Ilicali, a transportation consultant for the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.
In December 2006, Turkey’s Transport and Communication Ministry tendered the project under the name of the ‘Istanbul Bosphorus Tube Crossing Project.’
The project was contracted in 2009 with the cooperation of a Turkish-Korean joint venture, which was later named as Eurasian Tunnel Operation Construction and Investment – ATAS – in 2011.
According to the project, ATAS will be responsible for construction, operation and maintenance for a period of 25 years.
The Eurasia tunnel will be Turkey’s second underwater project in Istanbul after the ‘Marmaray’, a railway tunnel underneath the Bosphorus Strait which has already transported around 21 million passengers in the first six months following its inauguration in October 2013.
Moreover, a third bridge over the Bosphorus is currently in construction and is expected to be ready by the end of 2015. IC ICTAS Construction Company, which is building it, claims the structure will be the widest (59 meters), longest (1,048) and highest (320) bridge in the world.
Despite being noticeable improvements, these projects have struggled to diminish traffic flow in the city.
According to Ilicali, it is impossible for any project to end Istanbul's traffic problem forever.
"The wasted time in traffic jams in Istanbul costs over $5 billion every year. Every day, around 600 new cars join city traffic and 80 percent of these vehicles are private vehicles," he says.
"The average number of persons traveling in these vehicles does not exceed one or two persons. Around 2 million vehicles take to the roads each day in this city."
Gunaydin, indicating that the tunnel will only be able to be used by light vehicles such as cars and minibuses, says:
"There are more than 3 million registered cars in Istanbul. Both the population and number of vehicle owners are increasing in the city day by day.
“The tunnel will be a good choice for the citizens like me, but it will be just a local solution."
Revealing that private vehicles account for 90 percent of daily Istanbul traffic, Ilicali says: "Only 2.7 million people travel by private vehicles in the city while this number reaches 10 million with public transportation."
"Istanbul's traffic still needs a permanent solution – which is expanding the railways across the city.
“Expanding railways will be Istanbul's only savior," Ilıcali claims.
Indeed, the city has plans to add more than 600km of metro railway to its current 150km network by 2019.
However, until then, Istanbulites may have to content themselves by honking their horns.
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