President Emmanuel Macron is facing the stark choice of whether to help frustrated Parisian commuters or prepare for the 2024 Olympic games as costs spiral upwards on a 35 billion-euro ($41 billion) project to expand the city’s public transport system.
The cash-strapped government is considering downsizing the plan, and this week faced angry local officials who took to the streets to warn Macron against halting development of two planned subway lines north of the city. They said the rail links would do more for deprived suburbs than other projects planned for the games.
“We can attract many investors if we solve the issue of transport,” Valerie Pecresse, who is president of the Paris region, said during a protest march near the prime minister’s office. “I’m not fighting for the Olympics, I’m fighting for jobs and investment.”
Macron is facing a backlash against his move to review the capital’s most ambitious building project in over 150 years — dubbed Grand Paris — to better connect Paris with its suburbs. Set to benefit French construction giants including Bouygues SA, Vinci SA and Eiffage SA, the plan includes four new subway lines and 68 stations. The cost has ballooned by about 50 percent since 2010 and the president, who has pledged to narrow the country’s deficit, has called it into question.
“We’re going to have to make choices,” government spokesman Christophe Castaner said Wednesday after a cabinet meeting. “We will keep in mind our Olympic commitments. What is clear is that it’s too easy to say ‘No worries, we’ll pay’ because what we can’t pay for, we won’t do.”
Local politicians have said they fear the government will push ahead with a rail connection between Charles de Gaulle airport and the city center — a line that would mostly benefit tourist and business travelers — while delaying or scrapping other lines that would improve the lives of ordinary commuters and draw in investment.
Some municipalities are counting on links that are now at risk. The northern suburb of Gonesse has a plan to convert agricultural land into a 740-acre development that would include a 3.1-billion euro shopping and leisure complex. Called EuropaCity, the complex is backed by Auchan SA and Dalian Wanda Group Co and would depend on a new metro line, the number 17, to bring in customers.
The line “is necessary to complete the economic development projects we are defending for residents who cope with unemployment and lack of transport options,” Jean-Pierre Blazy, the mayor of Gonesse in northern Paris, said at the street demonstration.
The Grand Paris infrastructure project is funded by long-term debt, while the Societe du Grand Paris, which manages the project, has also relied on Paris region tax receipts and subsidies since its inception in 2010. A spokesman for SGP declined to comment.
Part of another planned line, the number 18, could also be delayed. The link would connect the southern tech research hub around the town of Saclay with the Orly airport and central Paris. The link is considered by some, including Pecresse, as necessary for plans long backed by Macron to transform France into a “startup nation.”
The Grand Paris is a top priority for Macron: His deputy chief of staff Anne de Bayser is in charge of making final decisions, according to an aide. He also worked on the issue when he as former President Francois Hollande’s chief of staff. Castaner said no decision would be made before the end of a public consultation in December.