NEWS

A bridge opens western Greece

The last section of the Rio-Antirio bridge was lowered into place yesterday, linking the western mainland of Greece with the Peloponnese peninsula and completing a major project which is hoped to spur development in western Greece. The last surface section (measuring 8 meters by 27.2 meters and weighing 450 tons) was lowered gently into place. The bridge is expected to be open to traffic by early September, as road-surfacing work, lighting, electrical and mechanical equipment and security systems have yet to be completed, as well as the access road linking the bridge to the Patras-Corinth highway. «Construction of the bridge is finished and we are very happy because the work is progressing very, very well,» said Jean-Paul Teyssandier, president of the Gefyra consortium building the bridge. The bridge is to be named after Harilaos Trikoupis, the prime minister who first expressed the vision of linking the Peloponnese with the western mainland in a speech in 1889. Trikoupis oversaw the first great modernization of Greece in the late 19th century. The foundation stone was laid on July 19, 1998, and the bridge cost about 770 million euros. It has a total length of 2,883 meters - with 2,256 meters of it representing the world's longest cable-stayed suspended deck in five spans. The Olympic Flame relay is scheduled to cross the bridge on August 8, five days before the Athens Games begin. It is about three months ahead of schedule. When the bridge opens to traffic, it is expected to carry about 10,000 vehicles on normal days and more than 25,000 on busy days. The toll is expected to be set at about 9.70 euros per car on a one-way trip, about 40 percent more than the 6.60 euros cars pay now on the small ferry boats that cross the strait. However, cars will cover the distance from Rio to Antirio in less than five minutes, compared to the 25-40 minutes needed to cross by ferry. And that does not count the hours that cars might have to spend waiting on busy days or when bad weather prohibits sailing. Pedestrians will be able to cross the bridge in about 25 minutes, for free. «We imagine we will be able to hand over the bridge for cars between August 12 and the end of August - in the worst case, by early September,» Asclepios Dimoglou, assistant manager of the project, told Mega Channel. This opening up of Western Greece is expected to help boost economic development in Greece's poorest region and one of the poorest in the European Union before the latest expansion. The bridge will have two lanes for traffic in each direction as well as a breakdown lane. It is built to last, as it is designed to withstand earthquakes of more than 7 on the Richter scale, winds of more than 265 kilometers per hour and collision with a ship carrying 180,000 tons. The Gefyra SA consortium is led by French-based Vinci and includes five Greek companies, Hellenic Technodomiki-TEV, J&P-Avax, Athena, Proodeftiki and Pantechniki. Vinci holds a 53 percent interest in the consortium and the Greek partners the rest.

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