The Public Works Ministry yesterday signed a 30-year concession contract with the Apion Kleos consortium for the construction and operation of the national road along the northern and western coast of the Peloponnese. The cost of the project comes to -2.8 billion, which is more than that of the Attiki Odos and Rio-Antirio bridge combined. The state will put up -550 million (just under 20 percent). The road will stretch for 365.4 kilometers, of which 283.7 km will be new, while the remaining 81.7 km correspond to part of the existing network that is to be improved. The Apion Kleos consortium comprises the following companies: Vinci SA, Hellenic Technodomiki-TEV SA, Aktor SA, J&P-Avax SA, Hochtief Projektentwicklung GMBH and Athena SA. The project will be delivered gradually and completed within six years. The busy northern part from Corinth to Patras will be delivered by summer 2011. «This is a very important day for the ministry,» said Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias, «firstly because we are signing the contract for perhaps the most ambitious of the major projects using the concession method and secondly because this project marks the completion of all the tenders for key expressways.» «The ‘Development Roads’ project, relating to 1,417 km of modern and safe highways, is finally changing the development pattern of the country. New modern infrastructures are being created, facilitating rapid growth and putting an end to the isolation of many parts of the country,» he added. Construction work on the new highway will begin as soon as the project has been approved by Parliament, probably this coming December. «This is a project of strategic importance for the development of the Peloponnese, Western Greece and Epirus, which has been expected for decades,» added Souflias. The Corinth-Patras section (stretching 120 kilometers) will have three lanes of traffic in each direction. It will include tunnels with a total length of 10.3 km, as well as 61 bridges, 13 new junctions and 135 overpasses. The western section will start from Patras, bypass Pyrgos and end at Tsakona, covering 163.7 km. It will have two lanes in each direction, 1.4 km of tunnels and 55 bridges. The contract also envisages improvements to the existing Elefsis-Corinth section (63.4 km) of the Athens-Corinth national road and of the Patras bypass (18.3 km). Although these sections were delivered as recently as 2003, a number of problems have arisen. The timetable also provides for safety improvements to the Corinth-Patras section. Toll fares will be calculated on the same basis as today (-0.04 per km) with the first increases anticipated in early 2008. The new expressway is expected to serve up to three times the number of vehicles as at present.