Modernising road, rail, port and air facilities

New routes provide fast track to future growth

Greece is witnessing one of its biggest ever phases of construction, fuelled by the need to create better public transport systems before the Athens Olympics Games opens in 2004. Demands are also increasing for modern routes to link up to the Trans-European Highway. Forming part of this network is the 680km Egnatia motorway, which will span northern Greece from its western to eastern borders.

More than 250km of the motorway are currently in use and a further 200km will be completed within two years and another 300km in five years. The project is 60 per cent-funded by the EU and the Turkish government recently stated its plans to continue the motorway from the border to Istanbul. Dimitris Fatouros, chairman of Egnatia Odos, the public corporation created to develop the motorway, says the construction work has not been without its difficulties. "Towards the east, on the Nestos River, there were some ecological problems, so we needed to proceed carefully," he says. "The western region, towards Epirus, is full of brown bears, so environmental issues must be considered.

The Egnatia motorway will create a new situation in Greece. It will be easy to travel from one side of Greece to the other. Villages and towns that had poor connections will now be linked to an excellent highway system." A number of important archaeological sites were also unearthed during roadworks and several museums are being built along the route to house the finds. The motorway is enormously important for Greece as it will change the whole concept of European communications across the region, he adds. There are links which will give direct access to Sofia and Skopje, and provide fast connections to the airports and port of Thessaloniki, and from central Europe to the Aegean islands.

Securing priority EU funding for the Egnatia motorway was vital, says Professor Fatouros. "There was strong interest from Brussels to develop this highway network." The Pathe motorway, which forms the north-to-south spine of the country, will link Patras to Athens and Thessaloniki to Evzoni on the Greek-Bulgarian border. The huge Evinos River dam project, built primarily to supply water to the greater Athens area, is complete, while the 200m-high towers of the 2.25km Rion-Antirion Bridge are already in place.

The bridge, which was just a dream for a century, is scheduled to open to traffic in 2004. Being built under a contract between the Greek state and the concession company, Gefyra, it will connect the Peloponnese to the western mainland of Greece. The cable-stayed structure will span nearly three kilometres, including the approach viaducts, and be the longest of its type in the world. The Rion-Antirion bridge forms part of the Trans-European highway network and is considered among the EU's 14 priority projects. Gefyra vice-chairman Jean-Paul Teyssandier says: "The bridge is a necessity for Greece. The first aim is to replace the ferry services and the second aim concerns international relations, specifically between Greece and the rest of Europe."

The Athens ring road, Attiki Odos, which will provide access to the city's new international airport, is due to be completed by the end of March. Work is also under way on the city's Thessaloniki Metro, which will be further expanded after the Olympics. Sarantis Pantelias, technical advisor to the ministry of environment, planning and public works, says the capital's metro and bus system has not been coordinated as yet. "We lack some of the necessary infrastructure. We lack multi-node connections at metro stations, which will eventually incorporate bus stops, taxi ranks, parking areas and shops. In our programme, which runs to 2008, we have planned eight of these stations. These include supermarkets and will be promoted by con-cession contracts," he says.

In an effort to relieve the chronic traffic congestion that has plagued Athens for years, the government plans to build a tram network. The two-phase project will include a 12.7km line linking central Athens to the seafront, from Zappeion Park to Paleo Faliro. Then an eight kilometre line will continue along the city's shoreline, ending at the suburb of Glyfada. The first phase of works, budgeted at $277 million, will be undertaken by a subsidiary of Attiko Metro, the consortium building the city's new underground system.

The first two tramlines will open in time for the Olympic Games. The second phase will expand the network by 20.9km from the port of Piraeus to Keratsini and from Goudi to Keramikos. "The development of the city's transport system never ends," says Mr Pantelias. "The target for the first phase is 2004. We will have completed the Athens ring road, two new metro lines, and restructured the city's bus routes. Some traffic management issues will arise during the Olympics, but most of the requirements will have been covered."

Leonidas Kikiras, chairman of Attiko Metro, half-financed by the EU, says five new stations are already open, handling an extra 125, 000 people a day. "This means that the whole network of 18 stations conveys around 380,000 passengers a day," he says. "Without the new Attiko Metro lines, the city will not survive."