Highway tunnel in Turkey raises hope for stronger regional trade

Highway tunnel in Turkey raises hope for stronger regional trade

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Highway tunnel in Turkey raises hope for stronger regional trade

The construction of the two- tube Ovit tunnel kicked of May 13.

The construction of a new highway tunnel in the northeastern region of Turkey, which is planned to be the third longest tunnel in the world, is invigorating the commercial prospects of local businessmen, both regionally and internationally. 

“It will galvanize the Black Sea region economy wise, and it will lead to the full capacity utilization of ports,” Ömer Faruk Ofluoğlu, the president of the Rize Trade and Industry Chamber, told the Daily News during a phone interview yesterday.

The government commenced the building of the highway tunnel over the weekend, in what it is deemed to be a strategic project accelerating land transport from Turkey’s northern highland provinces to eastern, southeastern provinces and all the way to Iran and Central Asia.

Ofluoğlu also indicated that transit highway transport between Europe and Iran may shift to the region. The distance between Rize and Tabriz, a western province of Iran, is about 1,300 kilometers, a much shorter route than any other port, he said, adding that Iran’s trade with Europe may flow to Eastern Europe through the Black Sea and the northeastern ports of Rize and Trabzon. Moreover, Syrian and Iraqi traders will also benefit from the project, according to Ofluoğlu.

The tunnel is set to cut through the Ovit Mountain, which is located between İkizdere, a district in the northwestern province of Rize, and eastern province of Erzurum’s İspir. The project will eventually exceed 17 kilometers, including the link roads around it.

“This is a destiny project for the region,” Ofluğu said, adding that it was an all-important step to enhancing domestic tourism and trade between northern, eastern and southeastern provinces. 

Highway tunnel in Turkey raises hope for stronger regional trade
The red line shows the current highway from Rize to Erzurum and Ağrı. The green line shows
the tunnel's location.

When the project is completed the travel time between the southeastern province of Mardin and the Black Sea province of Rize will drop to just 4.5 hours from the current 10-11 hours.

All the export products from those provinces, including the increasing amount of crops in the GAP region, will be transported through this highway route to Europe and the former Soviet republics, Ofluoğlu said. 

Most critical passage

The cost of the project is estimated at 800 million Turkish Liras, and upon completion it will be the longest tunnel in Turkey. 

“The Ovit Tunnel constitutes the most critical passage of the highway route that will link Rize and all the Black Sea [region], the Northern Caucasus to the eastern and southeastern regions and then to Central Asia and Iran,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during the groundbreaking ceremony of the tunnel construction on May 13.

The tunnel will enable transport all year round between Rize and Erzurum. The current passage over the mountains is mostly closed during winters due to risk of avalanches and heavy snow. The travel time between Rize and Erzurum will be reduced from 5 to 2 hours from, and the highway will be shortened by 30 kilometers between İspir and Erzurum.

The idea to build a tunnel in the region started as long ago 132 years ago, during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II, Prime Minister Erdoğan said.

Servet Yeşilyurt contributed to this report from Istanbul