TBY talks to Binali Yıldırım, Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs, and Communications, on the Prime Minister's latest projects and the key segments being developed, including maritime transportation and railway expansion.

Binali Yıldırım
Binali Yıldırım received a degree from Istanbul Technical University’s Maritime School. Shortly thereafter, he served as Director General of İDO, Istanbul’s ferry company. He has been Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs, and Communications since November 2002. He is also a co-founder of the Justice and Development (AK) Party.

How has the government supported and incentivized investment in Turkey's maritime sector? What is Turkey's potential to develop its ports to become a regional maritime shipping hub?

The seas have played a defining role in the history of civilizations, and have always been crucial from an economic, military, political, and geographical perspective. However, Turkey, a country that is essentially a peninsula, still hasn't been able to make full use of its maritime advantages. That's why the Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs, and Communications has created the technical and legal foundations to change the situation and ensure that we utilize our maritime potential as an economic resource. The overwhelming majority of world trade is done by cost-efficient sea transportation. In Turkey, 88% of foreign trade is carried out by sea.

The government has stepped in to shoulder the costs of building the third Bosphorus bridge after no bids were received from private companies. What impact will the bridge have on Istanbul's economy?

The reason we received no bids for the open tender was due to the construction conditions and technical specifications. Since then, we've divided the project into two parts, and in April 2012 we opened a new tender on 65 kilometers of the bridge and the connecting roads, set to begin construction this year. We expect this part of the project to cost around $2.5 billion. Another section is the 360-kilometer highway tender, which we'll construct with public funding. Over the last seven years, the number of cars on Istanbul's roads has increased 2.5 fold to reach 2.5 million vehicles. Meanwhile, Turkish trade volumes are growing fast. As exports grow, imports also rise. The third bridge is necessary for transit vehicles; due to heavy traffic on the bridges, TL3 billion in fuel is wasted, as is TL500 million of work time, which costs the country TL3.5 billion annually. With the third bridge, we'll have eradicated this waste. Imagine that every year we lose the equivalent of what it costs to build a bridge.

Prime Minister Erdoğan announced plans for Channel Istanbul in April 2011. When and how is this project expected to be realized?

The Channel Istanbul project is an important and necessary project for Turkey and for other countries in the region. Once completed, it will significantly ease the existing sea traffic on the Bosphorus, increase sea traffic safety, and bring the risk of possible disaster scenarios to a minimum. As you know, the Bosphorus is a very risky strait with strong and shifting currents, as well as a strong counter current. An artificial channel will have none of these dangers. We've begun feasibility studies for Channel Istanbul, and we're currently doing geological and route studies as well. I estimate that these studies will be completed in the next two years. Following that process, there will be a six-month tender period. Based on the route chosen, the project should cost between $4 billion and $10 billion. After this stage of the project is complete, we envisage at least four to eight years for construction. We aim to have the project completed by 2023.