Painful progress on the Egnatia Highway

The famous Egnatia Highway, vaunted not only by former Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis but also by the entire government as a work of national importance, will not be ready for almost 20 years. The road was intended to link western with eastern Greece, from Igoumenitsa to Evros, reducing the time needed to cover the distance by five hours (from 11.5 as it is today to 6.5 hours). Unprecedented delays have plagued the project ever since its beginning. Though some may have been expected, even partially justified, given the size and complexity of the undertaking, it is hard to forget that when Egnatia Odos SA was founded in 1994, the completion date was set for 2000. Almost two years after the proposed completion date, not even half the project has been completed, and problems continually arise in connection with studies, excavations and the construction work itself, where there have been cases of poor workmanship, omissions and even mistakes. The result is that apart from some 120 kilometers (of the total 680) which were delivered by 1994, only 160 kilometers more have been delivered since then. Nearly two years after the original completion date, the initial cost of 550 billion drachmas has shot up to 1.03 trillion drachmas. Initial estimates Egnatia Odos SA was formed in 1994 to construct the highway of the same name, as well as nine intersecting roads to Kakavia, Crystallopigi, Niki, Evzones, Promachonas, Exochi, Echino and Ormenio, and another intersecting road from Panaghia to Volos and Lamia. Egnatia is part of the European road network and the European Union has included it in its list of top-priority infrastructure and transport projects. From the outset, it was viewed as a project that would guarantee social and economic development in Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace. And there have been repeated claims that its five gateways – Igoumenitsa, Thessaloniki, Volos, Kavala and Alexandroupolis, along with the six airports and nine intersecting roads linking Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace with the rest of the Balkans would speed up the pace of development in Greece. From its inception in 1994, Egnatia Odos SA took two whole years to settle organizational matters such as the appointment of a project manager. From 1994-1999, tenders were called for 450 kilometers of road, of which just 30 percent have since been completed. Most of these are small segments, mainly in the Kozani area – the Kozani bypass and the Palio-Kavala bypass. In Epirus, by contrast, no segment of the road had been completed until a few months ago. Until recently, Public Works Ministry figures showed that 120 kilometers of the road had been delivered before the foundation of the company. In the ministry’s most recent leaflet that figure has been reduced, without explanation, to 94. Might one assume that the remaining 26 kilometers will be magically transferred to the post-1994 period? As for the future, the ministry’s predictions seem optimistic, to say the least. The ministry predicts that by summer 2002 another 138 kilometers will have been completed, as will another 150 kilometers by the end of 2004. More realistic estimates see the project reaching completion no sooner than 2008. The work According to the ministry, 85 individual segments have been, or are being, constructed along a 489-kilometer stretch at a total cost of 1.03 trillion drachmas. The geographical layout is as follows: In the Epirus region there are 29 contracts covering 109.4 kilometers; in western Macedonia there are 21 contracts for 86 kilometers; in central Macedonia, 21 contracts cover 119.7 kilometers, and in eastern Macedonia there are 23 contracts for 174 kilometers. Tenders are currently being called for another contract for supplementary work on parts of the Egnatia Highway in Epirus with an overall budget of 37 billion drachmas. As for the roads that will intersect Egnatia, apart from 10 segments with an overall length of 59 kilometers (from a total of 650 kilometers), the rest are still at the stage of having studies allocated. Defective studies and makeshift work Some delay is to be expected in a project of such magnitude. Yet insufficient allowance was made for the many delays which stemmed from appeals to the State Council by residents, organizations and municipalities. Moreover, Greece has little experience in carrying out such large projects, but seems unwilling to learn from other European countries which have more experience and which conduct meticulous studies. False economies and haste Most of the delays in this project have been due to the unacceptable lack of thorough studies. Some sections of the road have been allocated for work, though the studies have not been finished, with the result that the contracts are extended under the State’s responsibility. Other large sections of the road have not been contracted because it has not yet been decided where excavation is to take place and where the road is to be. In several cases, sections of the road differ considerably from the original plan. It has long been rumored, for instance, that the Grevena segment will only be a two-lane road (one in each direction). Other parts of the project have been abandoned. A case in point is the Metsovo suspension bridge, ever since the earth foundation proved unsuitable. Construction costs would have been so high as to make the project unfeasible. The root of the problem here is that false budgeting and haste have been responsible for defective surveys, lacking sufficient geotechnical data. The outcome is that new studies have been needed after work started on many tunnels along the Egnatia Highway, inevitably raising costs and prolonging delays. Another serious problem which has arisen, not only with these tunnels but with others elsewhere in Greece in the past, is the lack of provision for the effects of snow and ice. When tunnels are excavated in mountainous areas, it is important not just to make the road straight but to also take into account seasonal changes. The solution is to lengthen the tunnels, so that they start and end beyond the snow line so that traffic is not impeded. If an open section is required for an interchange or because the tunnel is excessively long, that section requires protection from ice and snow. Vehicles cannot stop to fasten or remove chains on roads conveying such heavy traffic. One other problem which is very noticeable on the Egnatia Highway is the dramatic discrepancy between the level of illumination in the tunnel and the amount of light outside, particularly on bright days. Experts say the intervening sections of roadway should be long enough for drivers to allow their eyes to adjust to the bright light before re-entering the dimly lit tunnel. In some completed segments of the road, the intervening sections are so short that the eye does not have time to adjust and drivers are briefly blinded as they re-enter the tunnel. The funding The Egnatia Highway is a massive project, and so is the sum needed to pay for it. Funds have been secured for the project from the 2nd Community Support Framework (1994-1999). Of these, 60 percent were EU funds and 40 percent Greek funds. The completion of the Egnatia Road is included in the 3rd Community Support Framework (2000-2006) as a high-priority project, with further funding of 700 billion drachmas. The overall sum secured from both CSFs is 1.1 trillion drachmas. In addition, the intersecting roads, the harbor and airport works are included in the priorities of CSFIII, with further funding of 300 billions drachmas. This sum includes loans approved by the European Investment Bank for parts of the Egnatia Highway, amounting to some 535 billion drachmas.