A Genoa bridge that collapsed last month killing 43 people is privately owned, but a key factor that has slowe basic infrastructure investment in Italy in recent years is the fall of the EU, reports Andrew Spannaus.
By Andrew Spannaus
Special to Consortium News
A little over a month ago, on August 14, a highway bridge collapsed in the middle of the Italian city of Genoa, killing 43 people, damaging the populated areas below, and interrupting a major traffic artery connecting the two sides of the city. The bridge had been built in the 1960s, with a construction technique that had been criticized by some experts over the years, and its decay was obvious; it had already undergone various repairs, and a new round of extraordinary maintenance was planned for this fall.
The maintenance didn’t come in time. As heavy rain fell in the area, cars and trucks dropped from a height of 150 feet, causing death and injury, and marking a national tragedy that has gripped the country.
Why did this happen? Italy’s highway company was privatized in 1999, and concessions were then granted to operate the roads. The largest concession-holder (with about 50% of the network) is currently Autostrade per l’Italia S.p.A., controlled by the Benetton family, founders of the eponymous fashion brand. They make a handsome profit off of highway tolls – among the highest in Europe – and they are responsible for maintenance and investments, which have stagnated even as tolls have more than doubled in the past 25 years.
Autostrade’s defense in regard to the disaster is that while concerns had been raised about the bridge, there was no indication of imminent danger. It’s a weak argument, considering that in Genoa the bridge had been the subject of public debate for years, with some seeing it as “a disaster waiting to happen.” After initial resistance, Autostrade ultimately responded to public pressure by allocating 500 million Euros (575 million dollars) to compensate the families of the victims and rebuild the bridge.
The first response from Italy’s populist government led by the Five-Star Movement…