Capital problems

Nearly a year after the inauguration of the new Athens airport at Spata, yesterday’s combination of a rainstorm, heavy traffic and public works turned the Vari-Koropi road into a sloppy gridlock. As a result, it took some hapless drivers up to three hours to reach destinations that normally take 20 minutes. This unusual, although not unprecedented, development shows anew the lack of a decent road network (or any rail connection) to the new airport, and that this situation is not an isolated example of deficient infrastructure but typical of the capital. The Athens Metro, which has improved its users’ quality of life, actually provides an explanation for the failure to tackle the traffic issue. The introduction of the only high-speed means of transport not affected by traffic jams and red lights – even in cases of snowstorms, as we recently experienced – was seriously delayed, while its extension, which should be untangled from the other priorities of the Olympic Games and expanded in order to create a complete network, is also lagging. It is obvious that if the new airport were connected to Athens by train, yesterday’s traffic would have been averted, as would the almost daily bottlenecks in Peristeri, Aegaleo or Halandri. This in turn raises the question of the Olympics. Kathimerini has from the very beginning stressed the potential danger that the Games’ organization would turn out to be a heavy burden for our country if emphasis was put on single-use projects that would absorb funds from strategic investments on infrastructure projects. If there is one thing that Athens could get out of the Games, it is by exploiting projects that would improve living standards in the city, in line with the Barcelona model. Yesterday’s chaos, the sluggish pace of extending the metro line, the precipitous rise in security costs and the emphasis on projects that could well be demolished when the Games are over, demonstrate that preparations for the Games are not adapted to the needs of the capital. Yet Athens and its citizens would be grateful to anyone who would take their fate into account; to anyone who would seek their praise and not just that of the IOC; to anyone who would try, even now and to the degree this is possible, to posit relief of an overcongested Athens as the ultimate criterion of Olympic-related projects. Athens university doctors, on strike since last May over a government ultimatum demanding that they choose between working for state or private hospitals, return to work today but only in their teaching role, after a decision by the Athens Academic Medical Staff union which is taking legal action against cases of doctors being barred from the Alexandra and Hippocrateio state hospitals. The union will meet again in the first week of February to decide whether Athens doctors will resume strike action. Meanwhile, university doctors in Thessaloniki and Patras are to continue their strike until January 24 and doctors in Ioaninna are also not working.

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