‘I often feared it would never be finished’

At the end of 1986, a tall, thin French engineer, a senior executive with the GTM group (which later merged with other groups to form Vinci), walked through the door of the then-environment and public works minister, Evangelos Kouloumbis. Jean-Paul Teyssandier was looking for opportunities to build major projects in Greece and had an appointment with the minister who set out the government’s future plans, such as those for the new airport, the metro and others. Kouloumbis also wanted an opinion on how to best bridge the Rio-Antirio crossing at the western end of the Gulf of Corinth. (Until this Thursday, the western Peloponnese and the rest of western mainland Greece were linked only by regular ferry crossings, often halted by bad weather.) The next day, Teyssandier was in Rio. Yesterday, nearly 18 years later, he carried the Olympic Flame in the torch relay across the bridge, as president and managing director of the French-Greek consortium that built and will operate the the bridge. «Until then, I didn’t know anything about Rio or Antirio,» says Teyssandier. «The next day, I went to the area and saw that it was worth bridging. What I saw most of all was that a bridge was viable, because when you talk about a major project, you can’t restrict yourself to whether it is beautiful or the technical difficulties, but whether it is profitable; otherwise it isn’t worth building.»

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