The first tollgates are ready to open on Egnatia Highway in northern Greece

The first of a total 13 tollgates along northern Greece’s new Egnatia Highway is set to open by early June at the Kastania Pass near Kozani, ending free use of the new route. The next two tollgates will open in Epirus – along with the longest section of the Igoumenitsa-Ioannina stretch of the highway – and Thrace, either in the Nestos area or at the Greek-Turkish border. The new tolls are expected to exceed 2 euros, though Apostolos Goulas, president of Egnatia Odos SA, insists that «under no circumstances will they be as high as 7 or 10 euros, as rumored.» A decision on the final amount, expected to be from 4 to 6 euros, will be reached sometime this month as the text of the ministerial decree is ready and awaiting signature by the public works and economy ministers. According to Egnatia’s management, the tolls are considered mandatory. The drivers save time and money on their commutes, and the money brought in by the tolls helps offset increasing operational costs. «Just the cost of lighting the highway is 3 million euros a year, and maintenance of the highway over the next five years is expected to cost nearly 80 million euros,» Goulas said. «Resources (from state funds) can only be had from the Public Investments Program and therefore cannot be used for operating and maintaining the highway. After all, it would not be fair to ask all Greeks to pay for it through taxation.» At the moment, about 7,000 private cars drive through the Kastania Pass every day. Soon, another 300-400 heavy vehicles will also traverse the pass daily. According to a study by the Egnatia firm, the new road will save commuters used to traveling on the old road both time and money. It will reduce the drive in that area by 11km, increase the highway speed from 60 to 120kph, and save about 1.5 liters (or about 1.40 euros’ worth) of fuel. The rest of the tollgates will open as more of the highway is completed. The total length of 680km includes 40km of twin-bridges and another 50km of double tunnels. At the moment 492km of the road is open. The rest is set to be completed by the end of 2008. Egnatia Odos SA and the Public Works Ministry are examining possibilities for installing an electronic toll-collecting facility which will do away with personnel, charging by the kilometer traveled.