GIG: What are the key objectives at the Infrastructure and Transport Ministry? Which project under your purview do you consider to be the most important for the national economy and why?
Karamanlis: Our programme is based on two main ideas: growth and new jobs. To achieve the above, we need to unblock major projects that will benefit GDP growth. The most important is the Hellinikon project, which constitutes the largest urban regeneration project in Europe, designed to add significant new investments and uses in the areas of tourism, culture, entrepreneurship, innovation, and the environment. Thus, it is expected to have a positive effect not only on the region of Attica but on the entire country. The investment amounts to €8 billion and is slated to create 10,000 permanent jobs during its construction phase, and 75,000 jobs upon completion. Moreover, the project is expected to substantially contribute to the repositioning of Athens as a major world class tourism destination as it will provide a significant number of new units, as well as thematic tourism venues, which are expected to attract at least one million new tourists.
We also place great importance on advancing and connecting a modern rail with ports, logistics centres, and industrial hubs. Connecting the ports of Thessaloniki, Kavala, and Alexandroupoli with the ports of the Black Sea and creating a rail transport system with our neighbours in the north is a project of great significance for the whole region. Our goal is for Greece to become a logistics centre for southeastern Europe.
GIG: What are the next batch of infrastructure projects to mature? What are the challenges in implementing them?
Karamanlis: We have grouped our national priorities for the infrastructure projects of the future into ten major categories. Regarding the highway network, we need to begin construction of the Northern Crete highway (VOAK) and complete the last section of the E-65 highway.
But special attention must be given to advancing our outdated rail. Our goal is to work towards the advancement of a reliable, environmentally friendly, fast, and competitive rail network, focusing on missing links, connecting rail with development hubs, and advancing the European Railway Traffic Management Systems (ERTMS). With regard to urban transport, we urgently need to update our old bus fleet in Athens and Thessaloniki, complete the metro in Thessaloniki by April 2023, and begin the construction of Line 4 of the Athens Metro.
Moreover, we will also focus on the following projects:
- Attracting investments for the 23 regional airports;
- Advancing a hydroplane network in the Greek airlines;
- Moving forward with infrastructure projects that deal with the threat of climate change such as flood-protection infrastructural projects;
- Southward expansion of Attiki Odos to Hellinikon;
- Completing the electricity interconnections between Attica and Crete by 2030.
GIG: What strategic change do you plan to implement to realise these projects? How will this help overcome current bottlenecks?
Karamanlis: We are willing to introduce a number of new tools to improve the quality of projects and to reduce the cost and time of their completion, such as:
- Third party verification of feasibility studies to integrate projects into the national delivery plan;
- The introduction of the National Digital Infrastructure Register for the regular monitoring of all public works and their maintenance;
- Supervision of public works from the private sector and enlargement of public-private partnerships’ (PPPs) scope;
- The introduction of one new tool, Unsolicited Proposals, which allows the private sector to participate in infrastructure planning – giving them the opportunity to design and submit a proposal for a project – for which there is no ongoing tendering procedure.
Infrastructure projects in Greece suffer from systematic slippage, both in preparation and in execution. The main factor behind the poor planning is the absence of the necessary political consensus for major infrastructural projects. Delays are endemic in infrastructure projects in Greece. There is also a lack of clear and effective procedures for project proposals, evaluation, and monitoring. Therefore, our government will introduce the National Plan for the Management of Natural Resources and Infrastructure Development. We will introduce new tools to improve the quality of projects and reduce costs, and time, for their completion.
GIG: After years of delays, progress is being made on two crucial projects in Crete: the Kasteli Airport and VOAK, a new national highway. Can you tell us a little bit about them and their expected impact on the island?
Karamanlis: VOAK is one of the remaining highway infrastructure projects that has been delayed for many years. At the end of 2019 we presented a feasible solution for this project.
Αs far as Kasteli Airport is concerned, an infrastructure project of utmost importance for Crete, we fulfilled our pre-electoral commitment and just announced the commencement of construction works.
Both projects are extremely important for the island of Crete and for the Greek economy in general. Our main objective is to move forward with these projects, as swiftly as possible, and avoid any unnecessary delays.
GIG: There have been fresh delays on the construction of the transit centre at Thriasio. Why is that so? And how do you see this panning out?
Karamanlis: The Thriasio project has been broken down into two phases, and both are very important projects. They will facilitate the vision of making Greece a major logistics hub for products arriving from southeast Asia. Connecting ports, highways, modern rail, and logistics centres are all necessary steps to facilitate this vision. Despite the major setbacks we experienced during the recent tendering process, our government is devoted to overcoming all difficulties with the European Commission and completing the construction of both Thriasio projects.
GIG: What role do PPPs have within the scope of the Ministry’s investment plan? What PPP projects do you currently have on the table? How else do you foresee the private sector getting involved?
Karamanlis: Our government’s plan is to give special attention to the attraction of the private financing of projects. When it comes to financing infrastructure projects, we believe we should not be reliant solely on public funding. Our aim is to enlarge the scope of public PPPs with a number of new projects, such as the new flyover highway at the Thessaloniki beltway, the reconstruction of the Kalamata – Rizomylos Road in the Peloponnese and the Chabrias Dam in Chalkidiki, among others.