Cairo, Riyadh revive landmark bridge project

24 February 2006

The Saudi and Egyptian governments are expected to issue soon a feasibility study tender for the estimated $3,000 million bridge across the Straits of Tiran linking the two states. Several regional banks, investors and contractors including Saudi Aramco, Saudi Binladin Group and Kuwait's Kharafi Group have already expressed interest in participating in the landmark project, for which construction is due to start in 2007 with completion set for 2011. It is understood that a management team has been appointed to advise the two governments.

The proposed road bridge, linking Ras Hameed in Saudi Arabia and a point just north of Sharm al-Sheikh on the Sinai peninsula, will have a total length of 23 kilometres. It will include two 2.5-kilometre-long suspension spans - one from the Egyptian coast to Tiran Island in the middle of the straits and the second from the island to the Saudi coast - over a minimum sea depth of 570 metres. The project will be implemented on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis with the developers charging a fee of about $60-70 for each user who wishes to cross. The developers believe that up to 4 million pilgrims a year will use the bridge in addition to commercial and tourist traffic. 'It makes perfect financial sense,' says one source close to the project. 'It's a win-win situation for all involved.'

The planned bridge will also support two 1 metre-diameter oil pipelines to transport Saudi crude directly to the Mediterranean export terminal of Sidi Krier. Aramco, which is expected to hold a majority shareholding in the project company, will save up to $1 million a day in shipping fees and lower transit time by using the pipeline. A team of Japanese and Danish consultants has carried out the project's initial feasibility study. The next step will be the release of the 12-month full feasibility study tender. Once the study is complete, the design and build tender will be issued.

The project has been on the drawing board for some time: a protocol agreement was signed between Riyadh and Cairo in 1988. However, the project has gained added urgency following the recent Al-Salam 98 ferry tragedy, which led to more than 900 passengers losing their lives in the Red Sea. If built, it will be the first time in more than 50 years that Arab states in North Africa will be physically linked to the Arabian peninsula.

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