Kuwait turns Silk Road into massive causeway
Oil-rich emirate is eager to inject life into uninhabited Subbiya region on its northern tip.
Ahmad al-Hassan (L) Kuwaiti assistant undersecretary for road engineering at the public works ministry and project engineer Mai al-Messad walk at the construction site of the Jaber Causeway in Kuwait City. (AFP)
2017/03/12 Issue: 97 Page: 18
Kuwait City - Kuwait is building one of the world’s longest causeways to its remote north where it will pump billions of dollars into developing Silk City, aiming to revive the ancient Silk Road trade route.
The oil-rich emirate is eager to inject life into the uninhabited Subbiya region on its northern tip that has been chosen as the location for Silk City. Investment in the Silk City project is expected to top $100 billion, and a 5,000-megawatt power plant has been built in Subbiya.
The plan is to reinvigorate the ancient Silk Road trade route by establishing a major free trade zone linking the Gulf to central Asia and Europe.
The 36km bridge, three-quarters of it over water, will cut driving time between Kuwait City and Subbiya to 20-25 minutes from 90 minutes now. At a cost of $3 billion, the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway, named after the emir who died in January 2006, is one of the largest infrastructure ventures in the region.
Despite the sharp drop in oil income, which made up 95% of public revenues, the emirate has pledged to keep spending on capital projects almost intact. Kuwait boasts a $600 billion sovereign wealth fund and is in the middle of a 5-year development plan stipulating investments worth $115 billion.
“The causeway project is a strategic link connecting Kuwait City to the northern region,” said Ahmad al-Hassan, assistant undersecretary for road engineering at the Public Works Ministry.
He said that in addition to the fully integrated residential Silk City, other economic ventures are planned for Subbiya and its surroundings. A large container port is under construction on nearby Bubiyan, Kuwait’s largest island.
Completing the causeway and harbour projects will help transform the area into a commercial and investment hub with a free-trade zone planned on five small islands nearby.
The causeway project consists of the main bridge north to Subbiya and a 12.4km bridge running west, dubbed the Doha Link. The two bridges start from the same point at Shuwaikh Port, the country’s main commercial port.
“If we take the Subbiya bridge alone, it is the fourth longest in the world,” Hassan said.
The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in the United States is the world’s longest bridge over water, stretching 38.44km.
The two Kuwaiti bridges are scheduled for completion in November 2018, project engineer Mai al-Messad said.
“We have already completed 73% of the project and hope to finish it ahead of the contractual period,” Messad said.
The bridge is between 9 metres and 23 metres above sea level.
The Silk City project has been proceeding slowly but the government recently sent a draft bill to parliament to establish a special authority to oversee development in the area. Parliament is expected to soon debate the bill.
Under the original blueprint, the city’s completion date was 2030 and the city was to include a 1,001-metre tower and a population of 700,000.
In late 2015, the cabinet gave the green light to establish a free economic zone on the five islands near Subbiya and the coastlines of Iraq and Iran. It is hoped that once complete, the zone, spread over several thousand square kilometres, will become the economic gateway to the northern Gulf.
However, nothing tangible has been done to advance the free economic zone project itself.
The Subbiya Causeway contract was awarded to a consortium led by South Korea’s Hyundai Engineering and Construction Company along with Kuwait’s Combined Group Contracting Company.
Another South Korean firm, GS Engineering and Construction, won the smaller Doha Link contract.