Ministers face crunch time on divisive Hymettus tunnel

Ministers are likely to be divided on Tuesday when they debate whether to go ahead with a controversial project to construct a tunnel that will run through Mount Hymettus to connect Athens?s southern suburbs with the Attiki Odos highway.

Environment Minister Tina Birbili has declared her opposition to the project, arguing Greece has put too much emphasis on road-building projects in recent years and not enough on public transport infrastructure. However, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Dimitris Reppas appears in favor of the tunnel, which is planned to be 3.5 kilometers in length. The two are due to meet today with representatives of the Athens Regulatory Plan Organization in an attempt to settle on what is going to happen.

Environmentalists and residents of the areas that will be affected by the construction and the increased traffic have voiced opposition to the building of the tunnel. They were joined yesterday by Rania Kloutsinioti, an architect and town planner.

?At the moment, Athens is facing a crisis like no other, so we should be focusing on improving life in the city center and not on big projects,? she said.

Supporters of the scheme argue that the tunnel would provide better access to the southern suburbs and allow residents living there to reach the national road network and the Mesogeia area southeast of Athens much more easily.

?It is a crucial project because it will complete the road network and will give the southern suburbs access to the Attiki Odos and the National Road,? said Vassilis Halkias, the president of the Association of Greek Transport Engineers and managing director of Attiki Odos. ?This will help journeys between Athens and Mesogeia and will reduce traffic on Poseidonos Avenue.?

But Kloutsinioti challenges this view. ?We do not have the luxury to facilitate the flight toward Mesogeia, nor to aid cars, especially when their use is declining due to the crisis,? she said. ?If the state wants to help the connection with Mesogeia, it can invest in public transport.?

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