Spain's longstanding dream of establishing a link between Europe and Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar has inched a bit closer to reality following recent talks between Spanish and Moroccan officials.
But although technical experts say appropiate technology to build a tunnel or a bridge across the 13-mile strait exists, such a project is not expected to be carried out before the end of the century.
The idea, which Spaniards began to consider seriously more than a century ago, received new impetus in 1979 following a meeting in Fez, Morocco, between King Hassan II and Spain's King Juan Carlos.
Both countries subsequently decided to set up state companies coordinated by a joint Spanish-Moroccan committee, established under a 1980 agreement.
The companies have already spent more than $11 million on preliminary studies to create a link between the two continents.
According to Spanish officials, studies carried out over the past five years indicate the construction of a tunnel or a bridge is technically feasible.
But Spain's transport minister, Enrique Baron, who visited Morocco in mid-January, said later it would take another 10 years to decide whether a tunnel or a bridge were the best option.
Either, he said, would require an investment of at least $3 billion. Construction would take at least 10 years.
Najib Benchekrum, director of the Moroccan state company formed to study the project, told reporters accompanying Baron that both the tunnel and the bridge were feasible.
However, he said construction of a fixed-support bridge posed a problem of building foundations while a bridge on floating supports represented a hazard to shipping in the busy strait.
A tunnel, Benchekrum said, would carry only railway traffic because of the ventilation problem posed by automobile exhaust fumes.
Jose Manuel Serrano, technical director of the Spanish state company reviewing the project, agreed that both tunnel and bridge were feasible using state-of-the-art-technology.