Notorious part of national highway to be transformed

By May 2004, another major obstacle to intercity travel – the stretch of coastal highway between Athens and Corinth known as Kakia Skala (the notorious Evil Staircase of antiquity) – will be nothing more than a bad memory. Drivers will no longer be plagued by long queues of cars on every holiday weekend exodus, or endangered by rocks falling onto the road. Works in progress include improvements to the existing road, with three traffic lanes in each direction, a safety lane each way and a traffic barrier along 7 kilometers of the highway, as well as a new 8.5-kilometer, fast-track railway with lines in each direction. The project is part of the Patras-Athens-Thessaloniki-Evzones road network (PATHE) originally budgeted at 176 million euros (60 billion drachmas) of which 105.6 million euros (36 billion drachmas) are earmarked for the roadworks and 70.4 million euros (24 billion drachmas) for the new railway line. Funded by the Cohesion Fund (for the railway) and the Community Support Framework (for the roadworks), the project’s official completion date was set at 1,460 calendar days from the signing of the contract with the AEGEK-AKTOR-ALTE-TEB consortium. September 7, 1999, the day Athens was shaken by a 5.9-Richter earthquake that killed dozens of people, was a turning point for the project. The earthquake highlighted the generally dangerous nature of the area because of the active rift running through it, coupled with other fault lines, such as those of Corinth and Atalanti, which made changes to the original design mandatory. Provisions were made for reinforcements and greater seismic safety measures, involving a 30-percent budget increase and a five-month deadline extension to May 2004. All bridges along the Kakia Skala fault line were replaced by tunnels, as underground works have been found to bear up better in earthquakes. The revised plan provides for the traffic and safety lanes, the traffic barrier, four 500-meter-long bridges and five tunnels measuring a total length of 3.85 kilometers. According to the design, vehicles will be able to reach speeds of 110-120 kilometers per hour. A two-way, fast-track railway, 8.5 kilometers long, is to be built separately from the existing line, permitting speeds of 200 kilometers per hour, as well as four railway bridges (total length 245 meters) and two tunnels (total length 3.9 kilometers). Currently, about 70 percent of the main part of the project has been completed, including a number of secondary works for both road and rail. Angeliki Kalkatzi, director of the organization monitoring the project for the Public Works General Secretariat, told Kathimerini that it involved complex works and was unusual in that it was close to Athens, was subject to heavy traffic and presented considerable difficulties regarding the terrain. The tunnels, for example, are the widest of their kind in Europe, with a total diameter of 20 meters. Electrical and mechanical engineering costs, particularly for work inside the tunnels, have pushed the budget for this sector of the work up to 23.5 million euros (about 8 billion drachmas). Kalkatzi said drivers using the route will have to be patient for almost another two years, but their patience will be well rewarded once the project has been completed. Greeks are more dissatisfied than any other Europeans with their national health service, with eight out of 10 rejecting it, says a report by the Organization for European Cooperation and Development (OECD) made public in daily Ta Nea yesterday. The report was dismissed yesterday by Health Minister Alekos Papadopoulos, who said its data reflected the situation before 1999 and that things have changed.