Third bridge: remedy for traffic or environmental disaster?

Demonstrators carry banners protesting the planned construction of a third bridge over the Bosporus.

February 20, 2011, Sunday/ 13:14:00

Various environmental and urban planning organizations have voiced concerns about potential damage to the environment and biological diversity of İstanbul if the proposed construction of a third Bosporus bridge is to go ahead. They also argue that a third bridge over the Bosporus will not resolve the city’s nightmarish traffic problem.

İstanbul’s proposed third bridge over the Bosporus will connect the neighborhood of Garipçe in the Sarıyer district on the European side with Beykoz’s Poyrazköy neighborhood on the Asian side. The tender for the construction of the bridge is expected to take place this month. The third bridge is expected to connect a highway originating in Kınalı in Tekirdağ province with another highway starting from İstanbul’s Paşaköy neighborhood on the Asian side. This route will extend to Gebze in Kocaeli, where it will join the highway heading to İzmir. The project will involve the construction of a 260-kilometer main road with separate connections at various points along the route. The 1,275-meter-long suspension bridge is expected to cost some $6 billion and will connect the Northern Marmara Highway with the Trans-European Motorway.

Details of the project were revealed in April 2010 by Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım. Since then some political parties and civil society organizations have been voicing opposition to the construction of a third bridge, arguing that it will pose a tremendous threat to the city’s forests and natural resources. They are expressing serious concerns about the impact it would have on the city’s forests and water resources.

The Turkish Environmental and Woodlands Protection Society (TÜRÇEK) chairman, Associate Professor Barbaros Gönençgil from İstanbul University’s geography department, fears that a third bridge over the Bosporus will greatly damage the city’s ecosystem and rich flora that have resulted from the dual climates (Mediterranean and Black Sea) afforded by its location.

“There are a lot of rich and sensitive plant communities over the planned location of the third bridge and the highways connecting to it. The construction of the third bridge and the highways around it will lead to the loss of important and sensitive plant species in the region. The planting of new trees to compensate for the tens of thousands of trees that will be cut for this project will not eliminate the environmental disaster that will emerge in the region,” Gönençgil told Sunday’s Zaman.

The professor also warned that the heavy urban development that will take place in the vicinity of the third bridge will not only cause irreversible damage to the flora but it will also lead to local climate change because urbanization, particularly an unplanned one, can change climate features of cities by increasing temperature. A NASA-produced image of İstanbul, showing areas that have increased or decreased in temperature since 1986, the year the second Bosporus bridge was built, reveals that while temperatures in areas north of the city have remained static, the areas serviced by the bridges have increased in temperature by between 0.6 to 1.4 degrees Celsius.

“Even if the only solution to İstanbul’s traffic problem was the construction of a third bridge, the location chosen for this bridge is still inappropriate and wrong in terms of both environment and transportation planning,” added Gönençgil.

In a statement issued in April 2010, Yıldırım said the government had taken social concerns into consideration during the planning of the project and that all necessary precautions would be taken to minimize the bridge’s negative impact on the environment.

Yıldız Uysal, head of the urbanization and planning committee of the Chamber of Architects of Turkey, dismissed claims that a third Bosporus bridge will solve İstanbul’s traffic congestion problems, which makes life very difficult for the 13 million residents of the city.

Referring to the fact that transit traffic (vehicles that do not stop in İstanbul) and heavy vehicles such as tractor-trailers will be directed to the third bridge and its connecting roads, Uysal said these vehicles make only 2 percent, or at most 3 percent, of daily traffic in İstanbul so it would be impossible for the third bridge to ease the city’s traffic concerns.

She suggested that authorities should give up making investments in land travel and solve İstanbul’s traffic problems by trying to increase ways to benefit from sea travel.

Another project, Marmaray, which aims to connect İstanbul’s Asian and European sides via an undersea commuter train line is already under way and is expected to be completed in 2013.

Güven Eken, who heads the Nature Society (Doğa Derneği), also strongly opposes the construction of the third bridge over the Bosporus, which he said means increased carbon emissions, deforestation, drought, flooding and less clean water in the city. “Let alone supporting construction of a third bridge over the Bosporus, the Nature Society proposes the demolition of the second bridge for environmental protection and more orderly urbanization,” he said.

The construction of the two existing bridges across the Bosporus, the Boğaziçi and Fatih Sultan Mehmet, both seen as bridges between different cultures, had also created debate among the public. Officials claimed the bridges represent the development of İstanbul and celebrated them, whereas some viewed them as unnecessary. The Boğaziçi Bridge, which has become the symbol of the city, was opened in 1973 by then-President Fahri Korutürk, while the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge began operating in 1988 when Turgut Özal was prime minister.

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