With reporting from Riham Sheble
A municipal leader in eastern Saudi Arabia has called for the construction of a new 25km bridge between the kingdom and Qatar, according to a Saudi media report.
Adel Bin Mohammad Al Melhem, secretary of the Al Ahsa Municipality, made the remarks at a recent GCC municipalities conference in Qatar, daily newspaper Okaz reported.
His suggestion entailed connecting Qatar’s west coast at some point between Dukhan and Umm Bab with the Saudi coast near Al Ahsa, some 425km from Riyadh.
The report did not provide any details about the proposed timeline or cost of the project, or whether it had the official backing of either national government.
Al Melhem made his pitch as part of a wider economic development vision for eastern Saudi Arabia, including a new 300-square-kilometer industrial city and a second causeway between his country and Bahrain.
The proposal comes as the number of Saudi tourists to Qatar continues to rise.
Residents of the kingdom comprised one-quarter of all visitors to Qatar in early 2015, and their numbers jumped an additional 16 percent in the first quarter of this year.
Currently, many of those Saudi visitors drive to Qatar by crossing the country’s sole land border and going up Salwa Road, which runs straight to central Doha.
However, government officials want to attract more tourists to areas of Qatar outside the capital city.
And cultural experts would like to see the areas around several of the country’s historic west coast sites – not far from where Al Melhem would like to see the causeway – developed to attract more visitors.
For Qatar residents, the bridge would likely reduce the travel time to the Saudi cities of Al Hofuf and Dammam, as well as to major roads leading to Riyadh, especially when the under-construction multibillion-riyal Al Rayyan Expressway is completed and connects to the Dukhan Highway.
Al Melhem made his comments the same week that Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince proposed to make it easier for tourists to visit the country as part of a package of economic reforms.
The suggestion of a new causeway is the latest pitch to construct new ground transport links between Qatar and its neighbors, none of which have come to fruition.
For example, there has been little talk in recent years of a once-heralded causeway that was to connect Qatar and Bahrain.
Construction was supposed to start in 2010 before being pushed back to 2014.
As the budgeted cost of the project rose, a new architect was hired with the goal of completing the road and rail connection in time for the 2022 World Cup.
However, there have been few updates about the project since 2013.
Similarly, a bridge between Qatar and the UAE was proposed in 2004, according to a Gulf News report at the time, but never materialized.
More recently, plans for a GCC-wide rail network – which has also been discussed for more than a decade – have also stalled.