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Turkey’s newly opened bridge fails to attract expected number of vehicles

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A suspension bridge over the Dardanelles Strait in northwestern Turkey opened by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on March 18 attracted only 6,000 vehicles on its first day of operation over the weekend, remaining well below the 45,000 promised to investors, the Turkish media outlets reported.

The 2.5-billion-euro ($2.8 billion) 1915 Çanakkale Bridge built by a consortium of Turkish and South Korean companies, is the longest suspension bridge in the world, cutting the travel time between Asia and Europe to six minutes. It has a main span of 2.023 kilometers (1.257 miles) between towers painted in red and white, the colors of the Turkish flag, making it longer than the previous record holder, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan.

At the inauguration of the bridge on March 18, which coincided with the 107th anniversary of Ottoman forces’ naval victory in the Gallipoli campaign during World War I, Erdoğan said the bridge would “keep alive the memory of the Dardanelles martyrs” while downplaying criticism of the high bridge toll — TL 200 ($1 equals TL 14.84) for cars, TL 50 for motorcycles, TL 250 for minibuses, TL 450 for buses, TL 500 for trucks and TL 950 for trucks.

“It’s only TL 200,” Erdoğan said, drawing criticism from opposition parties and wage earners at a time of worsening economic conditions in the country in the wake of the more than 40 percent depreciation of the lira against the US dollar last year.

An opposition politician said the bridge toll is TL 60 higher than the daily earnings of a minimum wage earner. Turkey has a minimum monthly wage of TL 4,250 lira ($286).

Bridge crossings were free the first week after its opening. On the first day that drivers had to pay a toll, only 6,000 vehicles crossed the bridge, according to a statement from Transport Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu, while long lines waited for the ferries that charge a smaller amount for the same route.

A consortium comprising Daelim and SK E&C along with pro-government Turkish companies Limak Holding and Yapı Merkezi, which were awarded the construction contract for the 1915 Çanakkale Bridge and Motorway project on a build-operate-transfer basis, will manage and operate the bridge for 16 years, two months and 12 days.

According to the contract, the Turkish government gave the consortium assurances that 16.5 million vehicles would cross the bridge annually, or 45,000 vehicles a day. If the crossings fall below the promised number, the difference will be paid from the state budget.

The expected number of vehicle crossings from the bridge is, however, 3.5 million yearly.

Erdoğan has often boasted of mega infrastructure projects, including a third bridge over the Bosporus, throughout his two-decade rule, first as prime minister and then as president.

The Turkish leader uses them as a means to drive economic growth as he eyes re-election in 2023.

Erdoğan is also planning to build a canal in Istanbul as an alternative to the Bosporus.

Opponents accuse him of pursuing vanity projects that fill the coffers of pro-government companies while putting the government into deep and largely unnecessary debt, hence wasting taxpayers’ money.

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