Turkey is thinking big, with major transport infrastructure projects aimed at developing Istanbul's regional integration. Domestic and foreign investors and contractors are lining up to grab a piece of the pie.

Construction of the world's deepest immersed railway tunnel is just one part of the enormous transport infrastructure projects aimed at improving civic life and facilitating Istanbul's integration into the European-Asian transport network. The 13.6-kilometer underwater tunnel is a part of the Marmaray Project, which will also feature 63 kilometers of suburban train lines. The project is set for completion in 2013. Another giant undertaking to link Istanbul with theAegean region has also begun, with Italian firm Astaldi leading a consortium in constructing a highway that will include the world's second-longest suspension bridge across the Gulf of Izmit. The government is also expected to call for tenders in 2011 for a third bridge over the Bosphorus in a further project aimed at improving travel times and securing Istanbul's role as a major hub for transport between East and West.


The ongoing construction of the Marmaray Project will see Istanbul's European and Asian sides linked via a tunnel laid under the Bosphorus. It will also link into high-capacity train lines between Gebze in the east and Halkalı in the west. The project is being overseen by Avrasyaconsult, an international consortium consisting of four firms: Pacific Consultants International (PCI), Oriental Consultants, and JARTS, all from Japan, and Turkey's Yüksel Proje Ulusarası. In late 2008, Hyundai Rotem announced it had beaten off tough competition to sign a €580 million contract to supply the rolling stock for the project. These substantial investments will aid the development of the rail system in Turkey, providing mass transit to a city that 12 million people travel into and through everyday.


In addition to the two bridges already spanning the Bosphorus, Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım outlined plans for a third bridge in April 2010, as part of the Northern Marmara Highway Project, which will also include a 266-kilometer-long highway that will run through Istanbul and the neighboring provinces of Kocaeli and Sakarya. The plan includes a 1,275-meter long suspension bridge including a railway line across the northern part of the strait, close to the Black Sea. The area has remained relatively free from the rapid urbanization seen in other parts of Istanbul, and the project remains controversial due to fears that the bridge may open the region up to development and harm the natural beauty of the city. However, Turgut Erkeskin of the Freight Forwarders & Logistics Service Providers Association in Turkey (UTİKAD) told TBY that he believed the third bridge would go a long way to solving the traffic problems that have plagued Istanbul. The project is forecast to cost $6 billion, including expropriation costs, and much foreign interest in the project is expected. The current two bridges spanning the Bosphorus are set to be privatized in 2011, along with 2,000 kilometers of highways, allowing the operators to open up new service facilities across the network.


The unveiling of an $11 billion highway mega-project improving the land transport link between Istanbul and Izmir will boost the economy of the Aegean region. With an integrated 3,000-meter-long suspension bridge across the Gulf of Izmit, the highway will link Istanbul to Izmir and reduce travel time by more than half, making it the largest infrastructure project of its kind to be carried out in Turkish history. This new vein in Turkey's pulsating transport network will begin to pump when construction is completed in 2017, and the Italian-led consortium, including five Turkish firms (Nurol, Özaltın, Makyol, Yüksel, and Gökçay), will transfer the highway to government control in around 22 years under a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) contract.


Istanbul has seen its population swell from 1 million to some 12.5 million since the 1950s according to TurkStat, with unofficial estimates putting the number at closer to 15 million. Istanbul's unique position between East and West and its location on the Bosphorus Strait, a key trade avenue, has meant that city planners have struggled to build a sustainable transport network in a city that just keeps on growing. The ruling AK Party has already invested $41 billion in transportation projects across Turkey since 2002, and according to state-owned Turkish State Railways (TCDD) the government plans to invest a further $100 billion in the country's transportation network over the next 12 years. This will include a third airport, with a passenger capacity of between 80 million and 100 million, to relieve the pressure on Istanbul's two existing airports. On the maritime front, in addition to Istanbul's main cargo port, with a handling capacity of 1,200 vessels a year and 144,000 TEUs of containerized cargo, the city's infrastructure is to get a boost with the tendering and privatization of Istanbul's historic Galataport expected in 2011, allowing investors to develop a cruise ship port and supporting facilities aimed at raising Istanbul's tourism capacity. The Istanbul transport master plan also includes a further underwater tunnel across the Bosphorus to support passengers and cargo, and along with the third bridge it is hoped it will offer an even better link between Turkey's two continents and enhance the country's position as a strategic trading center.