By Elias Hazou
THE GOVERNMENT is mulling putting back on track a shelved project for the construction of a motorway linking Paphos to Polis in the northwest of the island.
A government-appointed technical committee will be re-assessing the design of the project, with a view to “significantly” trimming the cost, Transport Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos has said.
The committee is expected to deliver its assessment by the end of the year, he added. Based on their findings, the government would then take any decisions. The venture would be implemented via a public-private partnership.
“One should not be scared away by the idea of redesigning the road,” Mitsopoulos said, adding that his ministry would seek to bring about “certain corrections” to the plans so that construction of the road is feasible.
Responding to questions, the minister all but ruled out toll fees for use of the road. Given the short distances on the island, he said, this was not practical.
The government was looking at other ways of financing the project, added Mitsopoulos, without elaborating. He did say that the government would follow the same formula as before, that is, the state would repay the contractor in installments upon delivery of the project.
Local authorities, who for years have been pushing for the new road as a way of boosting the region’s tourist product, welcomed the news.
But before it can go ahead, the government needs to introduce an updated legislative framework governing public-private partnerships (PPPs), as per the troika’s demands.
Under the MoU signed with international lenders in April, Cypriot authorities are “to put in place an adequate legal and institutional framework for PPPs designed according to best practices…A proposal for such a strengthened legal and institutional framework for PPPs should be drafted [Q3-2013] and implemented [Q4-2013].”
Moreover, Cyprus is to create an inventory of current and planned PPPs and share this information with the “programme partners.”
Significantly, authorities here are to “commit not to enter into any new tendering process and not to sign any new PPP contract before the implementation of the legal and institutional PPP framework, excluding any project having reached commercial close by end-October 2012.”
The planned motorway has had its fair share of critics. The original idea for the road dates from 2000, although plans for it have been on and off the shelf since then.
Dubbed the ‘A7’, the motorway is one of the oldest demands of locals, due to the number of accidents happening on the current route towards Polis and the constant heavy traffic on it.
The project has been plagued by bureaucratic delays and legal battles. In the mid-2000s one of the companies tendering for the project filed an appeal at the Tenders Review Authority and also secured an interim court order, until the former reached a decision.
The initial preferred bidder, a consortium going by the name of “Kinyras” claimed rising costs due to the ongoing financial crisis. The consortium upped its financial demands, hence putting the whole project in hiatus. Following the previous government’s refusal to pay more for an already expensive project, talks moved to the second preferred bidder the Austrian-Cypriot consortium, “Strabag -Nemesis.”
The A7 would be the most expensive road project ever implemented, with the reported price tag – at the time of the first attempt – varying from €700m to €900m.
The original plans included three tunnels, seven bridges, eight grade separated interchanges and 25 underpasses. The scheme was projected to take four to five years to complete and it would branch off the A6 right after the Anatoliko Industrial zone exit and head north. It would travel East of Armou and Marathounta, west of the “Minthis Hills” golf resort and Stroumpi, joining up with the current B7 road and following the current path. On the motorway it would narrow down to two lanes until its terminus at Polis.
Questions have been raised – including by the Scientific and Technical Chamber – on the broader usefulness of the project, which would see just eight minutes shaved off the travelling time between Paphos and Polis.