Italy's telling bridge

The Italian bridge collapse is a tragedy and a political hot potato. How will the populist government handle it?

Death toll mounts in Genoa bridge collapse
Tim Hedges
On 20 August 2018 07:21

The A10 motorway runs along the Ligurian coast, around the gulf of Genova and down to Menton and the French Riviera. In Genova itself the motorway rises and you fly over the rooftops of this busy port. It is a dramatic, typically Italian experience with exciting, bold engineering.

I have driven the route many times, and never failed to enjoy it.

Now, perhaps we are paying the price for this experience. A huge chunk of the bridge has collapsed and the death toll is expected to be more than forty. There were few survivors..

Over the next weeks there will be inquiries, rumours and allegations. We cannot tell now what the cause of this disaster has been. Here are some suggestions:

Design - Italian architects are bold and tend to make statement pieces, albeit beautiful ones, and have to be restrained. This is not all, though. Corrupt contractors often force them into doing something unnecessary.

This might be an example: instead of building a ring road on the flat, they have sent the motorway over the top of the city, using more labour and cement.

Funding - The bridge is thought to have had a fifty year lifespan and it is fifty years old. In the 1960s the traffic was only a fraction of what it is now. However the Government never has any money.

Even though construction, at a time of low interest rates, makes an excellent investment, and would kickstart the moribund Italian economy, the European Union has kept budgets tight.

Materials - There are two types of cement available to Italians: the ordinary type, and a cheaper one obtained from certain shadowy gentlemen who tie the whole thing together within a matrix of favours, and ‘insurance’.

In 2009 the City of L’Aquila suffered an earthquake which would normally have caused damage but in fact resulted in destruction of biblical proportions. Analysis of the collapsed buildings showed the supplier of cement had used sea sand, the salt from which had eroded the structural piles. ‘The wrong sort’ of cement.

Maintenance - Autostrade per l’Italia are responsible for keeping the motorway system in good shape. They had reportedly done work on the bridge in the last two years.

The feeling in Italy is anger that such a tragedy has been inflicted on them, and, a familiar thing here, shame that Italy has let itself down. It has lost its bella figura.

The Government would do well to channel these feelings. First, they will find some people to blame, and they will start with Autostrade. There they will find some comfortably remunerated people, many not overburdened with work.

They will also look at contractors, and their mafia connections.

Secondly, the Government will point to the European Union and use this as weaponry to get public spending limits increased.

Prime Minister Conti, deputies Di Maio and Salvini need to be all over this, twisting it to their advantage, and to the advantage of ordinary Italian road users who want to feel confident about the structures they are passing over.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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