Environment and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou has promised that Thessaloniki will finally get a metro line, paid for by the State and the European Union, by 2008. On the eve of the opening of the Thessaloniki International Fair and Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s visit to Thessaloniki, Papandreou announced that the contract to build the metro line, signed in February 1999 by the State and Thessaloniki Metro SA, a consortium controlled by French company Bouygues and which included Canadian conglomerate Bombardier, was voided, because the consortium had failed to secure bank financing for the project. Papandreou, speaking yesterday to an audience of local businesspeople and politicians, said that the project would be financed through the Public Investment Program. The project includes a single line running east-west across Greece’s second largest city. Its total cost is estimated at 600 million euros, of which 244 million will come from the EU’s Third Community Support Framework program. Papandreou expects the State to find a contractor by the end of 2004 and the project to be built within four years of the signing of the contract. Some preliminary digging will be done before a contractor is found, Papandreou said. Attiko Metro and Tram SA will be used in that early phase and also to provide any changes to the project, which was put out to tender in 1993. Egnatia SA, which is building the highway of the same name across northern Greece, will also be involved in the project. «Big projects have big problems,» Papandreou told her audience. The minister added that most of Egnatia Highway would be ready by the end of 2004, meaning that motorists can use a combination of new and old roads to move across the whole distance. Thessaloniki Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, a member of opposition New Democracy, said the government’s decision to void the contract was «a blow to the city.» Other prominent Thessaloniki citizens voiced doubts about whether the project would be ready by 2008.