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Roads and roofs: Calatrava, transport, and being understood

Can I ask you briefly about Calatrava, and the April deadline [for deciding on the stadium roof]? The green light seems to have been given. What kind of guarantees were you given to help turn the tide? A total guarantee cannot be given. I met Mr Calatrava a few times, and I must say that I was impressed. I knew him by name, I had seen some of the bridges he built in Seville, and I thought he must be one of these artists who has no real sense of urgency, no real sense of reality, and actually the man I met was totally different. He’s not only an architect, he’s a civil engineer. He has a big office in Zurich, with I think 80 people, and he has another one. And talking to him, I had confidence that when he was making a commitment, he knew exactly what he was doing. And he would not put his reputation at risk: If he said, «I guarantee it will be ready,» it will be ready, so it gave me a lot of confidence. And now the preparation work is under way, they will have to mount everything. And the timetable is OK. But our concern is that, at OAKA [the main Olympic complex in Maroussi], they will have to improve the access road, to refurbish the stadium, they have to build the provisional roof on the swimming pool. And when you have different companies working at different places in the same area at the same time, you know, they may interfere in a way that the work cannot proceed as quickly as it would if there were only one work to do. And our concern is possible interference, because of all the work which has to be done at the same place. Now, we made it very clear that we did not consider the roof as essential for the Games. It would be nice to have it, of course, but we would only accept that they start if they were sure to be ready on time. And the message was very clear. And I think they have considered all aspects and said, «No, we can do it.» So you don’t have another provisional deadline, say, a time before which you can still pull back? I’m not a specialist in construction, but I imagine that when you start, it will be rather difficult to stop or to go back. These arches probably start on both sides and then they will join; for example, they will need pipes to support them, and the pipes will be put in the middle of the field. So, do you take everything away? You cannot leave the pipes for the Games. So they have to be ready. Moving people around Coming back to the Attiki Odos, the famous new road, we were stuck there in a traffic jam today, and it made me wonder what your main concerns are about transport systems at this point. There are a few. The first one is that, of course, that all the projects that are under way are finished on time. And, of course, where we had this traffic jam, if we had had the full road, probably it would have been different. So it’s important that they finish. The second one is that the public use as much as possible public transport and reduce the traffic of cars and buses. And the third one is that the traffic management plan they have prepared with some dedicated lanes for Olympic traffic can be put in place. And there, there is a big effort of communication to make, because it’s maybe not exactly in the Greek mentality to accept these restrictions and to follow them. So we have insisted for quite a long time on the fact that it was important to communicate to the drivers that these lanes were not for them, and that they had to contribute to the success of the Games by respecting it. But it won’t come from one day to another, so I think there is an important communication effort to make in this respect. And of course, using public transport supposes that the project will be finished on time. We just heard from the minister of transport that the problem in Faliron was solved [the tram]. I am happy to hear that; it was new, and it seems the mayor is even happy himself about the solution. The work will be completed over a total of 40-some kilometers, and they are confident the rolling stock is under construction in Italy, there are some pictures. So again this is a project which is very tight, and because it’s very tight we are concerned. But there are good indications that it should be ready on time. And as for the suburban train, the track is progressing well, and contacts with Siemens and the company producing the rolling stock indicate that they have committed themselves to deliver on time, and I think there are some penalties if they don’t, so that might be a good thing. The other aspect we insisted on, where they said they had the plans for that, they have to recruit the additional drivers they will need, they will have to train them, and also make the operational plan; they gave us some information about the number of people they can transport in an hour, so the operational system is already well advanced, with even the timetable, so this was rather positive news. So you don’t have any really bad worries about any one particular transport project? No, we had some about the Kifissos [River] because of the flood, etc., but the latest information we have is not so worrisome. Again, it’s like most of the projects, because the plans indicate that it will be finished very late before the Games, we are concerned because everything is tight. And if there are some delays, if there are some unexpected things, then we might get into trouble. But it can work, and we just cross our fingers. But that’s always a bit stressful in a way, to always be on the edge. In, and out, of context You will surely be asked more about your comments to Der Spiegel. I explained that to Mr Venizelos [the culture minister, in charge of Olympic preparations] because he made some remarks, and I asked him if he read the article. …Because comments can be taken out of context. The comments were taken totally out of context. It was badly translated, and I explained what the context was. A German city will bid for the 2012 Games, they have five candidates and they have to decide internally which one they are going to propose. The decision will be made next Saturday. And Der Spiegel wanted to have an opinion on a German candidacy. The whole article is dedicated to the German candidature for the Games, nothing about Athens. At the end, I think it was more or less the last question, the journalist said: «OK, the decision for allocating the Games of 2012 will be made after Athens. Do you consider this being an advantage, or a disadvantage, for a German city?» And my answer was: «You know, there are always some reactions after Games, after Albertville [Winter Games, 1992] which were all over the place, people wanted to have more ‘compact’ Games. After Athens people might react in a way they would like something different. And you Germans, you don’t have the fantasy, the creativity, the artistic side of the Greeks, but you have other qualities which you are very strict to uphold.» It is probably more peaceful to walk on solid ground.