‘There are always surprises in a project like this’

The Vinci construction group faced difficult problems from the very beginning with regard to funding. Teyssandier said that in March 1987 the firm made a detailed presentation to the minister in an attempt to convince him that the project was feasible. The minister asked for further details about the technical aspects of the construction, which he received two months later. «I still have the plans we gave him,» said Teyssandier. «A short while later, the first competition was held based on the ‘design-construction’ model, that is, it did not include funding but was nevertheless a pioneering step for its time. The new government of 1989-90 decided to cancel the agreement, which I believe was correct.» «Between December 1993, when we submitted our proposal, and the time the agreement was concluded at the end of summer 1997, I have to admit that I often felt it was over, that we would never move ahead. This bridge is the first built in Greece under a ‘build-operate-transfer’ contract (at least during the previous century). As with the Spata airport, the State retains the majority share in the firm operating it. The State does not know what is needed to carry out such a project. So it took three years to reach an agreement with the State regarding the way the contract was to be implemented.» The second and most difficult phase of problems was in 1996. «We had to convince the European Investment Bank to become involved in funding the project. When we began negotiations with them in early 1996, they told us they were not interested in providing capital for such a high-risk project which did not have any clear economic benefit. In a recent presentation Vinci made to analysts, there is mention of the fact that the firm managing the Rio-Antirio bridge will break even from the first financial year. Of course, it will not be distributing dividends before 2012 (at least according to the presentation). «It is not unlikely for the firm will show a profit from the first financial year,» said Teyssandier, although he added that the firm will have to make several difficult decisions regarding the loan model, which was different during the construction period from what it will be now that the bridge is in operation. A recent article in the British magazine The Economist was not so optimistic regarding the bridge’s prospects. It estimated that traffic would average 11,000 vehicles a day, just 1,000 more than currently use the ferry service. «When you enter into a project like this, there are always surprises,» said Teyssandier. «We are very cautious about making predictions about traffic. I cannot tell you we are expecting 11,000 or more cars a day. This is a somewhat unknown quantity. There is a chance that we might be faced with very light traffic in certain periods, but we can deal with that.»