After years of waiting, the congested roads of Greece’s second-largest city could get some relief as the government pledged yesterday that plans to start construction on the Thessaloniki metro system had entered the «final stretch.» Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias said the 800-million-euro tender to build the nine-kilometer line with 13 stations had been awarded to a Greek-Italian consortium, headed by domestic firm AEGEK, which would begin work as soon as the legal paperwork had been completed. Souflias said it was possible that other bidders might appeal against the award. «The Thessaloniki metro is the biggest public work that will be undertaken in this day and age in Greece. We are now in the final stretch,» said Souflias, who acknowledged the project had experienced many delays in the past. Residents may be forgiven for waiting to see the work begin before rejoicing, as plans to build a metro system in Thessaloniki have been aired for more than a decade now. However, the previous government failed in its bid to make the project materialize after the on-off tender process was caught up in endless legal wrangles. Souflias said that once work began on the metro, it would take five-and-a-half years to finish the line. He also promised the network would then be expanded. Greece has secured a 550-million-euro loan from the European Investment Bank and will use 250 million euros from EU funding to cover the cost of the project.