ISTANBUL -- Turkey is aiming to build the world's longest suspension bridge and Japan's IHI wants to help. Spanning the Dardanelles, the Canakkale Suspension Bridge, as it will be called, will form part of a highway connecting Istanbul with Izmir, the country's third-most populous city.
The project is a product of the government's drive to develop a transportation network between major cities. Major heavy machinery maker IHI has expressed strong interest in the project, which could offer profit opportunities for a wide range of Japanese infrastructure companies.
Turkey is seeking to complete the new bridge by 2023, which will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic by its first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The government is expected to select the contractors in 2015, according to local media. Given the time needed to secure financing for the project from a syndicate of banks and other sources, construction is not expected to start until around 2017.
Currently, the world's longest suspension bridge in terms of main span -- the length of suspended roadway between the bridge's towers -- is Japan's Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, at 1,991 meters. Completed in 1998, the bridge links Kobe with the Awaji Island. IHI was one of the contractors involved in its construction.
The envisioned bridge over the Dardanelles, with a main span of around 2,023 meters, would claim the No. 1 spot when completed.
Building the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge cost 500 billion yen ($4.58 billion). Turkey's new bridge will be a mammoth project on a similar scale.
Istanbul is a vibrant cosmopolitan hub of 14 million people, while Izmir has a population of 4 million. The bridge will shorten travel time between the two cities and is expected to produce significant economic benefits.
For one, the highway will allow trucks to carry industrial products from Izmir to eastern European countries such as Bulgaria without going through the congested areas of central Istanbul.
IHI has already won contracts for major infrastructure projects in Turkey. As the leading member of an international consortium, IHI completed the Second Bosporus Bridge in 1985, and in 1996, the company built a bridge spanning the Golden Horn, a major urban waterway and the primary inlet of the Bosporus in Istanbul. More recently, in 2013, IHI won the contract for repair work for the two Bosporus bridges.
IHI is also building a suspension bridge spanning Izmit Bay, located approximately 50km southeast of Istanbul. It will be the fourth-longest suspension bridge in the world.
Turkey's General Directorate of Highways awarded the contract for construction and operation of the bridge to a consortium of six companies, both from Turkey and abroad. The consortium contracted IHI to construct the bridge, with completion slated for the end of 2015.
The construction of the Dardanelles bridge is expected to start around 2017, shortly after completion of the Izmit Bay Bridge. This timing would allow IHI to use the same workers and subcontractors for both projects.
IHI Chairman Kazuaki Kama has said the company is interested in the Dardanelles bridge project, but competition from South Korean and Chinese rivals is expected to be fierce.
The project will be carried out under the build-operate-transfer model, a type of arrangement in which the private sector builds a piece of infrastructure, operates it for a period and then eventually transfers ownership of it to the government. Under this approach, public investment is recouped through tolls and other sources of income.
Bagging the contract will likely involve grueling negotiations with the Turkish government, which will try to ensure the economic viability of the project.