Tunneling to Africa

The Internet and cellphones have brought people closer together, connecting them instantly from Beijing to Boise. Alas, distance and barriers like seas and mountains still make it comparatively costly or time consuming for many people to meet face to face.

Engineers have been working at this challenge since even before the Appian Way. In modern times, they've saved people and businesses time and money through great construction feats like the Panama and Suez canals, the Channel Tunnel, and the bridges crossing the Bosporus that connect Europe with Near East.

Now a project that's been on and off the drafting board is back on again - we hope to stay, if costs can be worked out. The governments of Spain and Morocco are reviving the idea of an undersea tunnel that would be the first fixed transport route between Africa and Europe. Modeled after the Channel Tunnel rail link, it would follow a 24-mile route from Punta Paloma on Spain's southern coast to a point just east of Tangier.

Spain and Morocco haven't always had the best relations. Last year, several Moroccans were implicated in the Madrid terrorist bombings. The new tunnel talk shows farsightedness in Rabat and Madrid, though. A tunnel could promote tourism and trade, and develop Morocco so that terrorism has less appeal.

The costs could prove daunting. The company that runs the train service under the English Channel, for instance, has yet to turn a profit - though it expects to within three years. Soaring architectural ideas aim to connect other parts of the world - India with Sri Lanka, for example. While costs will inevitably bring these projects down to earth, let's hope they won't keep them from ever getting off the ground.

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