Key road projects at risk

Several major public road projects are under threat as an old legal problem could derail projects amounting to about 7 billion euros. At risk are the key project of the Athens-to-Thessaloniki national road, at the Maliakos to Kleidi section, as well as a number of other road projects promoted with concession contracts. The Public Works Ministry is eagerly expecting the decision by the European Commission on an appeal submitted by one of the two consortiums that bid for the Maliakos-Kleidi project. The delay in the decision has added to the anxiety, as room for maneuvering is narrowing should the ministry be forced to recall the tender, at the risk of losing substantial EU funds. The appeal is based on the fact that a former legal adviser to the ministry on jointly funded projects also participated on the governing board of construction company Lambda Development, which bid in the Maliakos-Kleidi tender with best offer at the time. This conflict-of-interests issue initially emerged in 2001, when the tenders for six major road works were announced, but the state’s legal council had then ruled against the appeal. The issue resurfaced last year in a recourse to the European Commission against awarding the Maliakos-Kleidi project to the Aegean Motorways consortium, which includes Lambda Development. If the appeal is sustained, the ministry fears a domino effect of appeals for other jointly funded road projects. Sources say the Commission will issue its verdict by the end of June. The contract for the Maliakos-Kleidi project has to be signed by the end of the year, otherwise funds of about 225 million euros will be lost. The project runs through five prefectures and includes 26 junctions.