Banjul: The Gambia on Thursday announced its first-ever bridge across the river taking up most of its territory, in a multi-million dollar project to ease the arduous journey across the country.
The west African nation of about 1.8 million people is a thin finger of land flanking the Gambia River, bordered on either side by Senegal and with a narrow Atlantic coastline.
The only means hauliers and other motorists have ever had to cross is a ferry service subject to queues sometimes lasting days and a pricing structure which can change at a moment`s notice.
"The implementation of this project is clear manifestation of the oneness and unity of the people of the Gambia and Senegal," Transport Minister Ousman Badjie said at the signing of a construction agreement in the capital Banjul.
Successive Senegalese leaders have lobbied over decades for the one billion dalasi ($23 million) Trans-Gambia construction project to go ahead.
The bridge -- almost a kilometre (0.6 miles) long and funded by the African Development Bank -- will take three years to complete, with the contract awarded to two companies from Spain and Senegal.
The start date for construction is yet to be announced.
The ferry crossing is the focus of sometimes violent border disputes between Gambian locals and Senegalese truckers which in the past have strained relations between the countries and led to Senegal closing its land borders to its neighbour.
In 2005 a months-long blockade over ferry tariffs by Senegalese truckers left Gambians with a shortage of bottled butane and no cement, devastating its construction industry and driving up food prices.
The dispute flared up again earlier this year when Senegal shut the frontier for several weeks.