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.