A political dispute between the governments of Bahrain and Qatar has triggered fears that a planned £2.6bn causeway to connect the two countries could be in doubt.
In May, a Bahraini fisherman was shot by Qatar’s coast guard as he strayed into its waters. Over 100 fishermen were then held by the Qatari government until they were freed in mid-June after the Emir intervened, responding to extensive lobbying from Bahrain.
Sources close to the project confirmed to NCE that political tensions had caused further delays to the project, which is already running 15 months late.
Construction of the project was originally scheduled to start in early 2009 after a consortium led by Vinci Construction Grands Projets (CGP), signed the design and build contract in May 2008. But progress on the link, which includes 18km of embankments over shallow waters, with 22km of viaduct and two 225m span cable stayed bridges, has been slow.
“There have been a lot of grandiose schemes but now more than ever they have to make sense financially”
In early 2009 client Qatar Bahrain Causeway Foundation (QBCF) announced that the road bridge would also include a rail link. This led to extensive design changes and caused the contractor to resubmit its construction bid price in November 2009.
After the redesign client QBCF said construction would begin in early 2010, however the contractors are still awaiting instructions to start site works.
Vinci CGP denied reports that its site team had demobilised.
It confirmed that some engineers working on a range of design and study work had been redeployed but said its core team was still on site. “Only part of the study team was redeployed in the area. The rest of the team is always available to any request of the client,” said a spokesman.
The head of a local consultant told NCE that many major infrastructure projects, particularly rail schemes were being reconsidered. “There have been a lot of grandiose schemes but now more than ever they have to make sense financially. Freight services make more sense but in the case of passenger rail ridership figures do not always make a strong enough case,” he said.
Vinci CGP leads the construction consortium in partnership with local Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and also counts Hochtief, Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC) and Belgium’s Dredging International as part of the group. Consultant KBR is providing design, project and construction management services with support from Halcrow.
Relations between the two countries had improved in recent years after a 10 year disputed about the control of several islands was resolved at the International Court of Justice at The Hague in March 2001. This resulted in the creation of a clear maritime boundary between the waters of the two states.
The resolution of the case was followed by the announcement of plans to build the 40km Friendship Bridge and studies on the project began in 2001.
It is understood that this pushed up the projected project cost from £2bn to £2.6bn.