The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union's financing institution, is lending EUR 200 million to COFIROUTE S.A., a private-sector motorway concessionholder, for completion of the A86 orbital motorway via an underground link road to the west of the Greater Paris area. An initial tranche of EUR 75 million was advanced to Cofiroute on 25 January 2002 on the occasion of a site visit by Mr Francis Mayer, EIB Vice-President, hosted by Mr Dario d'Annunzio, Chairman and Managing Director of Cofiroute S.A.

The underground completion of the western loop of the A86, scheduled for 2006, is a key component of the Development and Town Planning Master Plan for the Ile-de-France Region. The project financed consists of construction and operation under a 70-year concession of an initial 10 km "Eastern" Tunnel, reserved for light vehicles, comprising two superimposed two-lane carriageways with hard shoulder, between Rueil-Malmaison and Versailles-South. Forging a link between the main hubs of service-sector employment in Western Paris (La Défense, St Quentin en Yvelines, Vélizy, Massy and Saclay), this tunnel constitutes the first phase of completion of the A86 in Western Paris, to be followed by construction of a "Western" road tunnel between Rueil-Malmaison and Bailly (A12 motorway interchange).

EIB support for this project has a dual objective: creation of economic infrastructure with a European dimension and protection of the environment in urban areas. Under optimum traffic flow and safety conditions, the tunnel will offer a viable alternative to the surface road network, which is currently approaching saturation and unable to meet, over the long term, the growing transport requirements of more than one million people travelling between the dynamic tertiary-sector centres. In addition, by handling traffic volumes expected to reach 50 000 vehicles per day by 2010 (and 65 000 vehicles per day by 2040), the "Eastern" tunnel will help to protect the exceptional forest environment and quality of life of the inhabitants of the Western Paris region, redirecting a sizeable proportion of surface traffic and thus reducing noise and atmospheric pollution.

Completion of the A86 represents a major capital investment for Cofiroute, a private concessionholder managing a network of some 900 km of motorways in central Western France and involved in the development and operation of numerous projects abroad. The EIB's contribution in the form of a very long-term loan will diversify the sources of financing for the project, supplementing Cofiroute's bond issues and self-generated funds and providing financial security geared to the lengthy payback period for projects of this type. In a subsequent phase, this EUR 200 million loan may be complemented by further EIB financing up to the aggregate amount of commitments decided by the Bank's Board of Directors for this project, i.e. EUR 400 million.

For several years, the EIB has been the leading source of long-term bank finance for communications infrastructure with a European dimension, funding the road (EUR 12.6 billion) and rail (EUR 12.3 billion) sectors in almost equal proportions over the past five years. This is particularly the case in France where the EIB, with total lending of EUR 2.4 billion over this period, is closely associated with the development and upgrading of the country's motorway network through its loans to the Caisse Nationale des Autoroutes in support of semi-public concessionholders. At the same time, the Bank has underpinned the construction of the high-speed rail network since the outset, advancing EUR 2.5 billion in all for the TGV Atlantique, Nord-Europe, Méditerranée and, most recently, Est-Europe.

As for all projects financed by the EIB, the Bank pays particular attention to the environmental aspects of the infrastructure schemes which it supports, ensuring that they not only meet the highest European standards but that the optimum environmental choices are made when integrating projects on a sustainable basis into the natural and social environments. Furthermore, the EIB has devoted over one quarter of its lending during the last five years, i.e. some EUR 34 billion, to environmental protection and the rectification of environmental degradation.