Fragile link between the city and the sea

For at least the past 10 years, the public of Thessaloniki has been treated to a vision of two great projects: the construction of a metro and an underwater road tunnel. The promises are traditionally rolled out every year at the Thessaloniki International Fair. While obstacles to the metro have now been removed, doubts remain over the tunnel. Serious objections have been raised by academics and leading members of the local community. As with the planned embankment of the old seafront in the early 1990s, which was eventually abandoned after strenuous opposition from local bodies, the underwater tunnel raises concerns about the fragile link between the city and its signature seafront. In theory, the project has political support, though Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis expressed reservations in the past. At the same time, leading architects and town planners are fighting to stop the project from being implemented. Surprisingly, the Technical Chamber of Greece has not expressed a view either in favor of the project or against it. Aleka Gerolymbou, professor of town planning and regional development at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, noted that the benefit from reduced traffic congestion would be minimal compared to the damage to the seafront, even from such a narrow tunnel, by which «with unimpeded traffic moving at an expected average speed 35 percent faster than the present speed will emerge onto the new seafront avenue and continue along the existing roads and traffic lights,» she said. «In other words, in a densely populated residential area on the outskirts of the center, in which traffic is already heavily congested.» Critics of the tunnel also note that construction of such a large project will necessitate new infrastructure (such as extra traffic lanes on the seafront, exit ramps and tollgates) that will downgrade the seafront and public areas.