ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went for an inaugural spin on Saturday in Istanbul’s latest mega-project: the first-ever road tunnel linking the city’s European and Asian sides under the Bosphorus Strait.
The tunnel will open to the public on December 20 but Erdogan, accompanied by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan, made the first journey from the Asian side to the European side in a black car.
Construction of the five kilometre (3.1 mile)-long tunnel began in February 2011 and has two levels which will be open to traffic.
Travel across the two sides of Istanbul will be cut down to 15 minutes from 100 minutes, the presidency said on its website. It will cost $4 (3.50 euros) plus VAT to use the Avrasya (Eurasia) tunnel, Arslan said.
It is the latest in a series of key infrastructure projects in Istanbul including the city’s third airport due to open in the second quarter of 2018.
In its first phase, the airport will have an annual capacity of 90 million passengers but will later have be able to handle 150 million travellers.
This would mean the $29 billion airport overtakes the total combined traffic of 140 million people who pass through Charles de Gaulle in Paris and London Heathrow, making it Europe’s largest airport.
In August, Erdogan inaugurated the city’s third bridge — one of the longest suspension bridges in the world — over the Bosphorus, just over a month after a rogue military faction tried to oust him from power in the July 15 failed coup.
Speaking after he made the drive, Erdogan explained that 156 million people have crossed from the Asian side to the European side since October 2013 when the Marmaray underground railway tunnel opened linking the two sides of the Bosphorus.
“It was all a dream come true,” he added, referring to the project which has significantly improved public transport for the city’s 15 million residents by making it quicker to get across the two sides.
Dubbed the “project of the century”, the Marmaray was the first giant project initiated by the president who was then prime minister.
“Of course, we also knew this: without a dream, nothing real can be achieved. This is work that can be done and was achieved by those with faith and perseverence,” the former mayor of Istanbul said, according to the presidency’s website.