This week’s opening of the Marmaray tunnel connecting the European and Asian sides of Istanbul will have far reaching effects on the city’s economy and infrastructure, officials believe. The tunnel is also a world first - in that it connects two continents, opening up Turkey to the world and bolstering trade and travel routes. The tunnel is part of an ambitious plan by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan which aims to revolutionise Istanbul’s infrastructure and economy.
Although the tunnel has been championed for years by Prime Minister Erdogan, the original idea was first suggested by Ottoman sultan Sultan Abdul Medjid in 1860, who first envisaged the ambitious underwater passage.
Work on the tunnel began in 2004. However, archaeological finds delayed construction. Some 40 thousand artefacts, part of a Byzantine shipping fleet were discovered, which helped experts trace the city’s history back 8500 years - two and a half millennia more than believed before. Some of the relics will be displayed at a new archaeological “park” at the new Yenikapi subway station. Erdogan was frustrated by the delays, which set the project back four years.
Speaking at yesterday’s opening, President Erdogan said the tunnel project "connects history and future, past and the future, as well as connecting continents, Marmaray connects people, nations and countries."
The tunnel is just one facet of an extremely ambitious plan for Istanbul that includes a third airport, a grand new mosque a 28 mile long canal that will turn half of the city into an island, and another Bosphorus suspension bridge. The sheer scale of Erdogan’s plans has prompted skepticism by critics, who say that Erdogan sees himself as a modern-day sultan who is determined to leave a lasting and grandiose legacy.
Not surprisingly, Erdogan’s plan has attracted a great deal of opposition and protests. However, no one can argue that the tunnel - and the other improvements made to the city’s infrastructure - will go some way to easing the massive traffic congestion experienced by Istanbul’s commuters. Two million of the city’s 16 million residents pass over the city’s two bridges each day, causing queues and snarl ups on a daily basis. The rail system is expected to convey 1.5 million passengers each day - in a continent-spanning journey that will take just four minutes.
Engineers had to be extremely careful with safety, as Turkey’s legacy of earthquakes is not something to be taken lightly. The tunnel runs parallel to a fault line, which made things tricky. However, these issues were addressed and Turkey’s transport minister Binali Yildirim announced that the tunnel will withstand a magnitude 9.0 shake thanks to a construction that allows for movement.
Marmaray Project and impacts on Turkish Economy
The Marmamay tunnel project, along with the other projects currently in the works, is part of Erdogan’s plan to increase Turkey’s global impact. The Prime Minister believes that the country can double its GDP to USD $2 trillion, catapulting itself a place in the world’s top ten economies. Erdogan also described the project as a modern-day “Iron Silk Road”, and expects the tunnel’s completion to bolster regional trade and “reconnect civilisations” as well as foster diplomatic ties.
Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazici says the Silk Road countries share in more than 23 per cent of the world’s trade, and Turkey’s alignment to this region will bring economic prosperity.
Locally, the project will have an extremely positive effect on Istanbul’s businesses and real estate. When completed, Erdogan’s ambitious infrastructure project will run from Gebze on the city’s Asian side to Halkali, on the European side. The travel time between these two points will be 105 minutes - an improvement of 80 minutes on the current route.
Residential and commercial real estate in areas such as Yenikapi, Sirkeci and Uskudar, where there are new underground stations, have experienced a surge of interest, with developers earmarking empty lots and older buildings for redevelopment. With a further 37 metro stations in the process of either being upgraded or rebuilt, and a number of trains are being added to the current fleet, experts believe prices are set to rise all over the city as Istanbul’s commuters as well as investors realise the impact of a better connected city.
· The tunnel is 8.5 miles long. 0.8 miles of this is underwater.
· At its deepest point, the tunnel is 62 metres underground, making it the deepest tunnel in the world.
· Total cost of the project was £3.4 billion. Japan made a £8.5 million investment into the works.
· 16 million people living in Istanbul, and each workday two million of the city’s citizens cross the Bosporus using just the two bridges currently on Bosporus.
· The government hopes that the new underwater tunnel will eventually become a crucial trading route. It also opens possibilities to future travel - for example, travelling overland from London to China via train.
· The tunnel connects to suburban train lines, creating a direct link joining the European side to the rest of the city.
· The rail service will be able to convey 75,000 passengers per hour in either direction
· The numbers of cars clogging up Istanbul’s roads is expected to decrease by 20% after completion of the infrastructure improvements.
Marmaray Project and impacts on Istanbul real estate
Formerly, Istanbul's European side, home to the bulk of the city’s financial and business districts, commanded premiums that were head and shoulders over the city's Asian shore. Istanbul real estate in areas such as Sisli, Macka, Levent and Mecidiyekoy commanded prices that were 40 to 50% higher than comparable districts across the Bosporus straits. A major reason always cited by city’s professional dwellers is the ease of commute to and from work. With high traffic congestion over the two Bosporus bridges, rush hour traffic was enough to put potential Asian-side commuters off a fraught daily journey.
With the easing of rush hour traffic with a new transport system that crosses the Bosphorous in four minutes, it is expected that established districts on the Asian side of Istanbul will experience a significant boost within the next three to five years as more and more connections are rolled out within the project. For example, Uskudar, on the Asian side of the city, has property priced as much as 70% lower than Beyoglu. The two districts are now minutes apart, and this gap will quickly close.
The overall Marmaray project is expected to have a massive impact on Istanbul’s newly developing suburban towns such as Halkali, Beylikduzu and Esenyurt on the European side of the city and Gebze, Tuzla, Kurtkoy on the Asian. These areas are currently developing as major settlements aimed at commuters with low income. However, with improved commuter links this perception is expected to change, delivering a boost to the profile of Istanbul’s satellite towns.
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