A new toll road which will relieve congestion in large parts of Athens, link most parts of Attica with the two national highways and slash driving time to the country’s main airport, was opened to the public yesterday. The 12-kilometer (7.4-mile) stretch of the western Hymettus ring road links Katehaki Ave near Kaisariani in eastern Athens to the Rafina interchange on the Attiki Odos highway. It is expected to greatly relieve Kifissias and Mesogeion avenues, which have borne the brunt of traffic to and from the airport and the northern and eastern parts of Attica. The new stretch will carry an estimated 30,000 cars daily, saving drivers an estimated 40-60 minutes, the Public Works Ministry said. Driving time from the Katehaki interchange to the airport will now be 15 minutes, about a third of what it is now under average conditions. There are interchanges at Katehaki Ave, Papagou’s Anastaseos St, in Holargos and Aghia Paraskevi. Tolls are 1.80 euros, irrespective of distance covered. The last part, a stretch of 1.4 km between the bit opened yesterday and the Doukissis Plakentias interchange on the Attiki Odos, is to be completed next spring. The rest of the Attiki Odos is to be completed this November, linking Metamorphosis to Elefsina and Athens Airport at Spata with the highways for Thessaloniki and the Peloponnese. «In this way, we are completing the largest road project ever carried out in the capital region,» Prime Minister Costas Simitis said at yesterday’s inauguration ceremony. The new stretch runs along the lower slopes of Mount Hymettus on Athens’s eastern border. Some 7.5 km (4.7 miles) of it are underground, either through tunnels or through «cut and cover» construction work so that the forested slopes would not be disrupted too severely. Construction on the Hymettus road began in 1992, during a New Democracy government, but environmentalists and the PASOK party, which was then in opposition, blocked the work with protests to the Council of State. In 1994, under a PASOK government, new plans were drawn and a new contract was signed in 1996. But protests by Aghia Paraskevi Municipality and the American College in 1999 held up construction for another two years and more tunnels were added. With all the changes, the total cost in the end came to 85 billion drachmas (250 mln euros), from the original estimate of 38 billion drachmas (111 mln euros). Minister Vasso Papandreou noted that 200,000 more trees had been planted than were cut down for the project.