The Athens metro, which has offered the city much-needed relief from traffic, is set to extend its reach into the southeastern suburbs, with the Public Works Ministry approving yesterday the four joint ventures that can qualify to build the planned extension. The 5.5-kilometer train line that will add four new stations after Aghios Dimitrios on Line 2 will cost 350 million euros and is expected to be completed by the middle of 2009. Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias said that, despite changes being made to initial plans, the project is three months ahead of schedule. The line will run completely underground after the ministry scrapped earlier plans to build the extension above ground in a bid to save some of the city’s disappearing greenery. «We are avoiding building the bridge over Vouliagmenis Avenue, which would have caused considerable noise pollution and posed a visual eyesore,» Souflias said. The awarding of the construction contract is expected to take place in the fall with work on the line, which will include stops at Ilioupolis, Alimos, Argyroupolis and Hellenikon, to start early in 2006.