A bridge will finally link Morocco to Spain, not a tunnel
Until recently, a 42-kilometer-long tunnel under the Mediterranean Sea was supposed to connect Morocco to Spain. However, the project has undergone a major change. The authorities of both countries have finally opted for the construction of a bridge between the city of Malabata, in the Bay of Tangier, and that of Punta Paloma, near Tarifa.
The Spanish Minister of Transport Raquel Sanchez revealed this decision on Friday, March 31. “The bridge represents a huge investment, but less important than the tunnel project. After careful consideration, it seems more reasonable but also more spectacular to build Eurafrica. You only have to imagine driving over it at sunset to understand our enthusiasm,” she said. The bridge will allow the transit of 15 million tons of goods and 17 million passengers per year in the medium term, which could contribute greatly to the economic development of the western Mediterranean. Spain is the first trading partner of Morocco, which exports a large part of its agricultural production to the European Union. But the Strait of Gibraltar, through which 100,000 ships pass every year, is already congested, which limits the transport of goods between the two countries.
Initially launched in 1979 by the late King Hassan II and his Spanish counterpart Juan Carlos I, the Mediterranean tunnel project aims to link Africa and Europe by train, passing under the Strait of Gibraltar. Two state-owned companies, one Moroccan (Sned) and the other Spanish (Secegsa), headed by a joint committee, were set up to study its feasibility, which has led to numerous drillings, studies, and tests over the past 40 years.
The first question to be settled was: a bridge or a tunnel? Fifteen years later, at the end of the 1990s, the idea of a suspension bridge was shelved because of its astronomical cost. The inauguration of the 50-kilometer-long Channel Tunnel in 1994 also weighed in the balance. Especially since the distance between the two continents at the level of the Strait is only 14 kilometers. However, the water is too deep at this point and the soil is too clayey. The construction project is shifted further west, between Cape Malabata in Tangier and Punta Paloma beach in Spain, for a distance of 38.7 kilometers, all at a maximum depth of 300 meters. This work considered one of the most ambitious in the world, would consist of two railway tunnels and a service and rescue gallery. Its cost is estimated at between 6 billion and 18 billion euros.
The project had stalled in recent years, due to budget cuts in Spain after the 2008 financial crisis, and a succession of diplomatic disputes between Madrid and Rabat. But relations have normalized following Spain’s support for Morocco’s 2007 autonomy plan for the Sahara. The two countries have revived several bilateral issues. An envelope was released in the Spanish budget in 2023 to finance a new study “necessary” to “launch the construction process of the infrastructure. And the re-launch of the project was discussed at the bilateral summit on February 2 in Rabat.