ECONOMY

Threat for undersea tunnel

The construction of the Thessaloniki underwater tunnel is on the verge of being canceled, following the threats of its creditors. The delays and the hesitation by the Public Works Ministry to start the project may well force the cancellation of one of the most-debated projects in Greece in recent years. The recent threat of a default termination of the loan contracts by the 15 banks that are participating on the project unless work starts by end-May illustrates the frustration of all those involved. The tunnel project had been conceded to the Thermaiki Odos consortium with the final contract signed on October 31, 2006. The first bids had been tabled in 2004. However, the various forms of reaction by a number of groups and citizens of Thessaloniki have led to a series of revisions, both of the studies and the costs. The original budget for the 6.5-kilometer project was 472 million euros but, after all the revisions, it is estimated that the cost has now exceeded 550 million euros. Following objections by the Central Archaeological Council, it was decided to perform excavations at 25 meters deep, instead of 15 meters, using the equipment that had been employed for the construction of the metro tunnels. The European Commission gave the green light for the project as there was no reason for the original tender to be canceled. However, the ministry has yet to begin the work, which is now expected to happen much later than the lenders’ ultimatum, probably after the upcoming European parliamentary elections on June 7.