The governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are planning to have completed the feasibility studies for the expansion of the causeway between the two countries by the end of the year, according to Kamal Ahmed, Bahrain’s transport minister.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Euromoney Bahrain conference, Ahmed said, “Work between the transport and finance ministries of the two countries is under way to complete detailed technical and financial studies for this project. An RFP (request for proposals) is being prepared, and by the end of the year we hope to have all the details to start moving ahead with this project.”

The King Fahd Causeway, which currently links the two countries, was completed in 1986 at a cost of about $1.2bn. The expansion scheme will focus on adding a rail link between the two countries and adding additional lanes to the existing road link in order to alleviate traffic congestion. It is expected to cost about $5bn and will eventually become part of a wider $15.5bn project to link all the GCC countries by rail.

There are strong diplomatic and commercial ties between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. During the Eid al-Adha holiday in November 2012, 276,600 Saudi tourists visited Bahrain to take advantage of the island’s more liberal culture, and about 45,000 cars cross the causeway a day. In March 2011, the bridge was used by Saudi troops who came to Bahrain to help support the government during a crackdown on a Shia-led uprising against the rule of the Sunni al-Khalifa royal family.

Traffic going the other way is mainly businessmen serving the Saudi oil and financial sectors who are taking advantage of Bahrain’s lower cost of living.