Timor-Leste says YES! to billion-dollar tunnel


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Local media in Dili is reporting that plans are underway for the construction of a tunnel linking Timor-Leste with Australia. This is Timor-Leste’s second mega-project, coming hot on the heels of the $375-million power plants that are being built at the moment.

A tender was held last month calling for companies to submit proposals for the 550-kilometer tunnel that will be built beneath the Timor Sea. Of the 25 companies that submitted proposals, the government whittled them down to just one. China’s Energy and Tunnels Construction Company won the bid and work on the billion-dollar project will begin some time in June.

The longest tunnel of its kind, a reliable source from Ministry of Infrastructure said that the idea for the project came about after members of the government saw how successful the 50km Channel Tunnel linking England and France had been. Timor-Leste’s tunnel will link southern Manatutu district with Darwin and will provide three lanes of traffic in both directions with ample lighting all the way.

The project is slated for a 2014 finish and Jackie Chan has already been signed up to be a part of the first fleet of cars to make the journey through the tunnel.

With about $4 billion in oil wealth banked and ready for spending, Timor-Leste’s government is keen to splash out on massive infrastructure projects that will most likely benefit the country in the long run.

The source at the Ministry of Infrastructure said that the “Timor mega tunnel”, as it’s being called in Dili, will give Australians easier access to Timor-Leste and set up an important trade route between the two countries.

“This could be the push that tourism in Timor-Leste has been waiting for,” said the source.

New police commander Longuinhos Monteiro said that his men will be ready to handle security at the Timorese end of the tunnel, although it's unclear at this stage in which gang's territory the tunnel will lie. There have been unconfirmed reports that notorious gangster Hercules Rozario Marcal returned to Timor-Leste recently in order to rally up members of a local martial arts group who will "assist" the police with tunnel security.

Civil society groups have yet to pass comment on the Timor mega tunnel, but there has been some debate whether enough people would use the tunnel to drive the 550km between the two countries in order to make the project worthwhile.

Plans for the tunnel include the setting up of several cafes and super mie (noodle) stalls along the underwater stretch.

The budget for the tunnel will be discussed in parliament next week and the opposition FRETELIN party is expected to condemn the project.

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