Turkey is to build a “crazy and magnificent” canal to bypass the tanker-clogged Bosphorus in a massive feat of engineering.
The waterway, to be named “Canal Istanbul,” would link the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, which leads to the Aegean Sea.
It would be about 50km long, 25m deep and around 165m wide.
Prime Minister Recep Erdogan announced the plan today during campaigning ahead of elections on June 12.
“We have today embarked on the greatest project of the century,” Erdogan said, adding that it would be a bigger undertaking than the Panama or Suez canals.
The new waterway would be located on the European side of the Bosphorus, he said, but would not disclose its exact location or the cost of the gargantuan project. It would be completed by 2023, when Turkey will be celebrating the centenary of the founding of the Turkish republic after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
“Turkey more than deserves to enter 2023 with such a crazy and magnificent project,” he said to a cheering audience in the city. “Istanbul will become a city with two seas passing through it.”
Mr Erdogan, who is hoping to win a third term in office in June, had promised to announce what he called a “crazy project” for Istanbul since campaigning began earlier this month, keeping Turks guessing for weeks.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party, brushed off the project saying: “this nation does not need crazy people but people who think”.
Town planners speculated the canal would be built west of the town of Silivri in Turkey’s Thrace region, since areas closer to Istanbul are heavily populated. The government has already announced plans to build a new airport near Silivri.
Mr Erdogan said hazardous materials being moved through the Bosphorus pose a threat to Istanbul, a city of more than 13M.
The 30km strait that bisects Istanbul is, in conjunction with the Dardanelles, the sole passage between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and is heavily congested with tanker traffic to and from Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Ukraine and southern Russia.
It has been the scene of ship accidents in the past and environmentalists warn a major disaster is waiting to happen.
“Bosphorus’ traffic will be reduced to zero,” Mr Erdogan said. “Water sports will take place on the Bosphorus, transport within the city will be established, (Istanbul) will return to its former days.”
Past accidents have closed the Bosphorus for days, including a 1994 collision of an oil tanker and a cargo ship that killed 29 sailors.
In December 1999, a Russian-made tanker split in two at the mouth of the strait, spilling 1M litres of fuel and polluting six miles of coast.
Mr Erdogan said ships carry 625M litres of oil, 18M litres of liquefied petroleum gas and 13.5M litres of chemicals through the Bosphorus annually, threatening nearly two million people living and working on its banks.
He said feasibility studies would take two years to complete and he would keep the location of the project a secret, apparently to avoid possible land speculation in the area.