Attendees pass through a tunnel during a tour of the Paris Metro subway railway line 12 Grand Paris expansion project being undertaken by Vinci SA in Aubervilliers, near Paris, France (Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg)  

Paris Gets Early Start on Olympics Turmoil With Transport Delays

(Bloomberg) -- Spiraling construction costs and delays are nothing new in the history of hosting the Olympics. Yet Paris is starting early, with growing controversy about whether a plan to upgrade its metro system will be ready for the 2024 summer games.

A project to extend the city’s transport network is increasingly bogged down with accusations of mismanagement and a ballooning budget, partly due to tighter deadlines so it can be ready for the sporting event.

A national audit published this week has placed a question mark over whether the French capital can make good on a pledge to get athletes and fans to use its extensive public transit system to reduce carbon emissions and traffic jams.

“We boasted about an excellent transport network and some programs that would be delivered for the games,” Tony Estanguet, the head of the committee that oversees the Olympics organization, told a parliamentary hearing. “It’ll be very difficult for us if some lines aren’t delivered on time.”

Cost Overruns

The brouhaha erupted after the auditor published a scathing report about the transport plan known as Grand Paris that was supposed to be ready in time for the Olympics. The agency overseeing the project - which would expand the city’s metro system to improve connections to deprived suburbs -- isn’t well managed and costs have risen dramatically, said the head of the auditor, Didier Migaud.

In response, Estanguet wrote to President Emmanuel Macron to defend parts of the plan Olympics organizers deem critical for the games. The most important rail link is line 17 to the Bourget airport, where journalists will be hosted during the games, he said. Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne had warned in parliament that some lines would not be ready.

The report by the auditor, called the Cour des Comptes, made for compelling reading. It warned the pricetag of Grand Paris could balloon to 38.5 billion euros ($47 billion), twice the initial budget put forth in 2010, and in a worst-case scenario could weigh on France’s sovereign debt through 2100. 

The extra costs stem in part from added urgency to complete the extension in time for the Olympics and insufficient staffing at the public agency overseeing the plan, Migaud told a parliamentary hearing. The auditor also criticized contract-award procedures that he said aren’t sufficiently public and lack transparency.

Builders Vinci SA, Bouygues SA and Eiffage SA are set to benefit the most from Grand Paris, which is the city’s most ambitious and expensive building project in 150 years. Vinci’s share of orders amounts to about 1.3 billion euros.

With 200 kilometers (124 miles) of new metro tracks and 68 new stations, Grand Paris will connect some of the least prosperous suburbs to the city, spurring development in the greater Paris. The region represents about a third of France’s GDP. Funding for the project includes mainly long-term debt, but also Paris region tax receipts and subsidies.

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