Latest bridge collapse highlights Italy's infrastructure crisis

Firefighters working on Monday in the area where a stretch of the A6 highway from Turin to Savona collapsed after a landslide on Sunday. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Firefighters working on Monday in the area where a stretch of the A6 highway from Turin to Savona collapsed after a landslide on Sunday. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

ROME • The collapse of a highway viaduct in north-western Italy has underscored the country's failure to come to grips with the ageing infrastructure spanning some of its most fragile regions.

A day after a landslide ripped away part of the viaduct on the A6 highway between Savona and Turin, in the Liguria region, the government rushed to make new pledges on safety.

"We must do all we can to give Liguria a special plan for infrastructure security," Infrastructure Minister Paola De Micheli, of the centre-left Democratic Party, said on Monday in comments cited by Ansa news agency.

But similar promises have been made before. Pledges by the previous government, led like the current one by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, to form a new agency to monitor bridges and tunnels after the fatal collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa last year have made little progress.

Italy has also proven incapable of spending money where it is needed.

Its regions are using only a fifth of funds allocated for protection from hydro-geological risks, because of bureaucratic red tape, according to the national audit court.

Italy moved to shut down two viaducts on the A26 highway running north-south to Liguria for safety checks, Corriere della Sera reported yesterday.

The closures were ordered by Genoa-based prosecutors based on information compiled as part of an investigation into the Morandi bridge accident.

The proposed new oversight agency, dubbed Ansfisa, is still far from seeing the light of day, according to two officials who asked not to be named discussing confidential matters.

Setting up new government bodies takes time and involves numerous bureaucratic hurdles, one of the officials said, adding that public and private operators should be forced to invest more, including on technologies such as cheap risk-detection sensors.

Decades after the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s saw new highways and bridges crop up across the country, Italy is struggling to come to terms with a legacy of ageing concrete, and with the spectre of new disasters waiting to happen.

In some cases, there is also confusion about local versus regional or even national jurisdiction.

"There are about 43,000 road bridges in Italy, and responsibility is so fragmented between public and private operators, regions, provinces and towns that for more than 1,600 of them, we don't know who's responsible," said professor of transportation politics and economics Oliviero Baccelli of Milan's Bocconi University.

Compounding the challenge: roads and bridges built throughout often mountainous terrain, much of it in areas where steep hillsides are becoming more unstable in extreme weather.

"We need to monitor not just the infrastructure itself but also the surrounding area," geologist Antonello Fiore, head of the Italian Society for Environmental Geology, said of the northern regions of Liguria and Piedmont.

"You can have the most stable viaduct from a structural point of view, but a landslide will rip it down all the same."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2019, with the headline Latest bridge collapse highlights Italy's infrastructure crisis. Subscribe