Italy populists backtrack on Genoa bridge fears ‘fairytale’ | News | DW | 15.08.2018
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Italy populists backtrack on Genoa bridge fears ‘fairytale’

One of Italy's governing parties claimed several years ago that an imminent bridge collapse was a "fairytale." Calls for the resignations in the wake of Genoa's disaster are being resisted by road operator Autostrade.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) faced scrutiny Wednesday because in 2013 its Genoa activists had opposed a planned road bypass.

A provincial study by M5S had referred to the "fairytale (favoletta) of an imminent collapse of the Morandi Bridge." 

The statement has since been deleted from the party website but a cached version is still available. 

Following Tuesday's bridge collapse, which claimed at least 39 lives, Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli — a member of M5S — wrote on Facebook that he wanted the concession of operator Autostrade Per l'Italia revoked.

Austostrade operates 3,020 kilometers (1876 miles) of toll motorways across Italy.

Toninelli reiterated on Wednesday that Italy needed maintenance work on its existing structures, not "colossal" new infrastructure.

Fines of up to €150 million ($170 million) would also be sought by his ministry and Autostrade's managers should resign immediately, Toninelli asserted.

"If they cannot manage our motorways, the state will do it," he wrote.

Top managers of Autostrade were reportedly resisting government calls to resign Wednesday as the road operator stressed that it was investing more than €1 billion ($1.14 billion) a year on safety, maintenance and upgrading.

Autostrade insisted that Genoa's Morandi bridge had been "monitored … every three months."

Prioritizing up to Italy, says European Commission

From Brussels, the European Commission rejected claims by Italy's euroskeptic interior minister, Matteo Salvini, that EU deficit rules applied to Italy had hindered Rome from investing in infrastructure projects.

A commission spokesman said that EU member states could themselves set priorities within the framework of existing budget rules, and noted that Italy was eligible to receive €2.5 billion for road and rail upgrades between 2014 and 2020.

In addition, in April the commission had approved aid for EU member states that would "enable around €8.5 billion of investments to go ahead, including in the Genoa region," the spokesman said.

In 2009, Genoa hosted a conference on "Priority Project 24" to create port-to-port arterial transport links between Rotterdam/Antwerp and Lyon/Genoa as part of the EU's Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).

Its guest speakers included Antonio Tajani, then European Commission vice president, responsible for transport, and now president of the European Parliament.

Faith in reinforced concrete fading?

Genoa prosecutor Francesco Cozzi said an investigation would focus on maintenance and design of the 51-year-old bridge, which is named after celebrated Italian engineer Riccardo Morandi, who died in 1989.

Cozzi told state broadcaster RAI that it was "rash" to talk about an unpreventable act of fate.

Adding to initial design criticism by University of Genoa professor Antonio Brencich, architect Diego Zoppi said the risk of collapse had been underestimated.

Over five decades the bridge's reinforced concrete had cracked under the continuous traffic vibrations, letting air in, "which reaches the internal metal structure and makes it oxidize," he said.

The concrete's original function, "which is supposed to protect the steel, is no longer there," said Zoppi, former president of the Genoa branch of the order of architects.

"Fifty years ago we had complete confidence in reinforced concrete," said Zoppi. "Now we know it only lasts a few decades."

ipj/rc (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)

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