Plans to build a bridge connecting Saudi Arabia and Egypt across the Gulf of Aqaba have been revived, following the change of political leadership in Egypt. The project has been in the pipeline for decades; however, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was staunchly opposed to it, due to security fears and the potentially detrimental impact on tourism in the Red Sea area. Now that Mubarak is no longer in power, there are strong signs that the project is moving forward.
Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi has held discussions on the project with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, according to Egyptian Transportation Minister Mohammed Rashad, cited by pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat. There have been indications that the project is now back on the table, with technical details to be released in the coming months.
The 32km causeway would be a significant undertaking; it is estimated to cost US$3bn and would take three years to complete, although we believe that these figures are somewhat ambitious. The recently completed 42.5km Qingdao Haiwan Bridge (the world's longest bridge) in China took four years to build at a cost of US$8.5bn. An equally as ambitious project is the long-delayed Qatar-Bahrain Causeway (QBC), a 40km road and rail bridge that is estimated to cost US$5bn. By comparison, a 32km road and rail bridge for US$3bn appears ambitious.
The bridge would be built to handle both rail and road traffic, and would use tolls to recoup the cost of construction. It is unclear where financing will come from. Saudi Arabia is spending an exorbitant amount on infrastructure, meaning that the project could be state funded. Tenders for the bridge are likely to include the usual local players, Orascom Construction Industries, Saudi Binladin Group, Al Rajhi Construction, as well as international companies with expertise in building this type of structure, with Hochtief and Vinci having been awarded the QBC contract.
This cost estimate should also factor in environmental remediation. The bridge would link Ras Nassrani in the Egyptian tourist city of Sharm El Sheikh, with Ras Hamid in the Saudi Arabian province of Tabuk, across the Gulf of Aqaba and near the environmentally sensitive Tiran and Sanafir Islands, which are breeding grounds for endangered species. For this reason, it has been met with significant environmental criticism.
The benefits of the bridge are expected to be felt on both sides. The link is anticipated to significantly boost trade between the two countries, from the current figure of US$4.2bn a year to over US$13bn once completed. As well as improving trade, it will assist with the movement of people, around 1.2mn Egyptians work in the Gulf Cooperation Council States. It will also open up a new route for pilgrims travelling during the Hajj (when it is estimated that 50,000 to 70,000 Egyptians travel to Saudi Arabia) or Umrah.