Court halts $6.5 bln highway project on environmental concerns

April 04, 2012, Wednesday/ 15:04:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Construction of the İstanbul-İzmir highway, Turkey's largest ever build-operate-transfer (BOT) project, has been put on hold by the Council of State until the $6.5 billion project obtains an environmental impact report (ÇED).

The Radikal daily reported on Wednesday that the Council of State decided to halt construction following complaints it had received. Turkish environmental law requires that new investments secure a ÇED before they can start. Following the finalization of the tender for the project -- which a consortium comprising six companies won -- the foundation was laid in 2010. Construction has been under way since then. The Prime Minister's Office back in 2010 issued a public notice that included 13 separate articles. The ninth article in the notice for this project said it was exempt from a ÇED. Reacting to this arrangement, officials from the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architect's Chambers (TMMOB) and the Aegean Environment and Culture Platform applied to the Council of State, demanding that construction be halted until a ÇED can be prepared.

Following elaboration on the appeal the court approved it, ruling that the motorway project be halted until a ÇED is issued. The Prime Ministry has the right to appeal the court decision. The law, however, requires that the Prime Ministry order a ÇED within 30 days following the court ruling. It takes approximately one-and-a-half years to secure a ÇED in Turkey. Although the bid specifications require that construction be finished in at most seven years, the consortium wants to complete the project in five. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had also called on the consortium to try their best to finish the whole project in five years, meaning before the end of 2015. Observes argued the court intervention could prolong the project by at least two years from the planned date of completion.

The largest BOT in Turkish history, the İstanbul-İzmir highway begins in the town of Gebze and crosses into the town of Orhangazi in Bursa over the Gulf of İzmit. It proceeds from Bursa to the northwestern province of Balıkesir and ends in İzmir. The highway will be 420 kilometers long, and the suspension bridge on the İzmit Gulf will be three kilometers long, the world's second longest. Within the framework of the project, 30 viaducts, four tunnels, 209 bridges, 18 toll booths and five highway maintenance operation centers are expected to be constructed.

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