Bolstering the landmark Egnatia Highway

Bolstering the landmark Egnatia Highway

The recent decision granting the right for the operation and management of Egnatia Odos to a private group represents a new chapter in the life of the highway that extends from Greece’s western port of Igoumenitsa to the eastern Greek-Turkish border at Kipoi.

It is perhaps not widely known that the Egnatia also constitutes Greece’s participation in the Black Sea Ring Highway, a major regional infrastructure project of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). Greece is an important founding member of BSEC and the Egnatia’s advantages – but also problems – for the improvement of regional connectivity also involve the competent BSEC Working Groups. Apart from its undeniable national importance, the Egnatia Highway – together with its vertical axes – connects our country with its four immediate neighbors and serves vehicles from many countries in the wider region.

In 1997 the construction, operation and maintenance of the highway was assigned to Egnatia Odos SA (EOAE), established in 1995, in order to perform its work more effectively according to private economic criteria. The main part of the Egnatia was completed in 2009. After the financial crisis of 2010, the Egnatia’s submission under the supervision of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (TAIPED) and the consequent calculation of its revenues for the repayment of Greece’s public debt led to difficulties in its maintenance and operation.

The biggest problem for the highway’s foreign users remains the complete lack of service stations along its 658 kilometers. There are only a few parking spaces, and these lack the necessary safety infrastructure for drivers, passengers and transported goods.

Other problems include the constant changes in the quality of the road surface, the lack of maintenance on several stretches and the irritating increased number of outdated toll stations, which cause delays, long queues – especially in the summer months – as well as placing an obvious burden on the environment from the frequent stop-and-go maneuvers of mainly heavy vehicles.

It is a fact that a large number of passenger cars, buses and trucks moving on the Egnatia come from third countries. The number of Turkish trucks crossing the highway from the Greek-Turkish border all the way to the port of Igoumenitsa and vice versa is significant. During the summer months, the traffic increases with the thousands of vehicles from Balkan countries heading to the resorts of northern Greece. The situation is aggravated by the thousands of vehicles of Turkish immigrants who drive to Turkey with their families for their summer vacation and return a few weeks later to their countries of residence.

The lack of service stations for all these travelers 10 years after the start of the highway’s operation forces many potential users to choose alternative routes, to the detriment of the Egnatia itself.

The European Commission recently announced a call for proposals to improve the network of Safe & Secure Truck Parking Areas (SSTPAs), worth €100 million. Greece can submit proposals for the radical upgrading of existing parking spaces and for the construction of modern service stations along the Egnatia Highway.

In order to avoid the long delays and the environmental burden caused by the large number of toll stations, up-to-date methods of toll collection should be adopted, e.g. through the electronic registration of entry and monitoring of each vehicle and the payment of the appropriate tolls upon its exit from the highway.

I consider it necessary to also refer to the Kipoi border station on the Greek-Turkish border, which is unable to respond to the increased traffic: Kilometers-long queues of trucks and passenger cars often form on the Greek side, especially during the summer months. For the drivers and passengers of these vehicles, who often wait for hours or days to go through the necessary checks, there is no provision of any service whatsoever, even for their human needs. Unsightly and dangerous pollution of the immediate environment is visible along the entire length of the last kilometers before the border station.

It is worth noting that, for its part, Turkey is currently completing the second upgrade of its own border station at Ipsala, with the now well-known “opulence” – but also impressive functionality – used for its public buildings and infrastructure projects. The inevitable comparison is stark.

The BSEC organization recently introduced a model border station to its member-countries with ample amenities for drivers and passengers, especially for international transport trucks (e.g. with secure parking areas, entertainment rooms, restrooms, restaurants etc). Greece can take advantage of the relevant international experience and the support of BSEC to proceed with the urgent upgrade of the Kipoi border station.

Finally, the construction of the new bridge across the Evros River should proceed, which will facilitate the smooth movement of all vehicles. The relevant proposal to the Greek authorities was submitted by the signatory in 2004 and led to the conclusion of a bilateral agreement in 2006, which was ratified by the Greek Parliament in 2007 (Law 3579/2007) and by the Turkish National Assembly in 2011. In the reasoning of the relevant bill it was stated that “the second cross-border bridge will be constructed near the existing one. The construction of the new bridge will be done by each country, within its territory.”

In conclusion, the strengthening of the international and regional importance of the Egnatia Highway presupposes the urgent address of the above serious problems and obstacles faced today by foreign and Greek users alike.

Ambassador (Ad Honorem) Michael B. Christides is former secretary-general of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC, 2015-21) and former ambassador of Greece to Turkey (2002-05).{IDIOT}

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