A three-year marathon ends

The marathon route, one of the most important and problematic of Olympic projects, was officially opened yesterday. The highway, with two lanes in each direction separated by a barrier, had become emblematic of the problems faced by organizers in the runup to the Games. Part of the Olympic marathon will be run along this road and it is also a crucial link between Athens and the rowing center at Schinias and the journalists’ village at Aghios Andreas. The highway will help ease traffic between the city and many of eastern Attica’s coastal resorts. Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias’s relief at the completion of the road after three years of construction was so great that he declared, «We have won.» This was what the first marathon runner of legend, Pheidippides, reportedly exclaimed («Nenikikamen») when he ran from the plain of Marathon to tell the Athenians that their army had defeated a huge Persian force in 490 BC. The previous government, having learned how much time could be lost by environmentalists and local citizens taking Olympic projects to court, had taken the unprecedented step of passing a special legislative act that precluded legal action against the project. Ironically, the company that undertook to widen and resurface the old route while also carrying out anti-flooding works ran out of cash and was unable to complete the task. A new group took over in March and upgraded 26 kilometers of the total 42 kilometers (26.2 miles) of the marathon course. However, anti-flooding work and signposting are incomplete and trees are still being planted. «We won the first big bet: finishing the construction and delivering the project,» Souflias said. «I’m so happy with this project, it feels like I built it myself.» Another major factor in the Olympic preparations is planning for traffic control, and here it appears that there is room for improvement. The first test under real conditions, carried out in Athens early on Sunday, showed up a number of problems. The test included dealing with traffic accidents, breakdowns, and problems with traffic lights. They showed that operators needed to get acquainted with the new technology that they will be using, Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis told Kathimerini. One of the problems was the poor quality of surveillance images from a specially rented blimp. Athens 2004 organizers also held a major test in which they successfully moved 2,000 people in 90 buses in various directions on Sunday.