For now, the Messina Strait bridge exists only in the form of a scale model at the Ministry of Transport. Minister Matteo Salvini, along with governors Roberto Occhiuto and Renato Schifani, had his photo taken in front of this scale model. The Meloni government aims to have the executive project ready within a year.
On Thursday, the Council of Ministers approved the draft decree that turns back the clock ten years: it was 2013 when the Stretto di Messina S.p.a. company was put into liquidation. It had operated for 32 years, with a giant pile of cash wasted to pay engineers and managers. Now the “oldest dream in Italy” rises again amid the enthusiasm of the center-right and the many concerns of environmentalists and the engineers, who have always warned governments off the project because that area is at high seismic risk.
However, as promised in the election campaign, the Meloni government is barreling ahead with it. The government’s approval uses the precautionary formula “subject to agreements” and technical aspects are still being worked out.
The starting point is the final design approved 11 years ago, which would make it the longest single-span bridge in the world: 3.2 kilometers. It will now have to be updated to comply with the latest technical, environmental and safety regulations. The building stage will take five years and will start from the authorizations obtained in 2012 for the rail and road connections, explained Deputy Minister Edoardo Rixi.
According to Salvini, “it will be the most beautiful, greenest and safest in the world,” certified by “the greatest engineers from the best universities”; he claimed it was a “historic day” for all of Italy. Silvio Berlusconi insisted that “they will not stop us this time.”
The decree also resurrects old procurement contracts canceled by the Monti government, starting with the one with Eurolink, the consortium led by Salini (now Webuild) that won the international tender.
The Green and Left Alliance immediately organized a protest flash mob in front of Montecitorio. “A €10 billion waste of resources,” the protesters’ placards read. With this budget, it would be possible to buy 175 intercity trains and 500 regional trains.
According to Deputy Angelo Bonelli, this decree “is only useful for the horse trade of government seats,” while WWF points out the “very high and unsustainable environmental, social and economic-financial costs,” and recalls that the Strait area is included in two “very important special protection zones.”
Occhiuto and Schifani, however, are gloating. “It will be a great opportunity for the South, but it will be necessary at the same time to work to develop the indispensable complementary works to the best of our ability: we need a surge of pride as there was for the Genoa bridge,” said the president of the Calabria Region.
The Sicilian governor thanked Prime Minister Meloni and Minister Salvini for “a project of fundamental importance,” to which one will have to add “the overall strengthening of the connected road and highway networks.”
The first idea for the bridge dates back as far as the period of the Punic Wars. Charlemagne thought about it too, while in 1840 the King of the Two Sicilies, Ferdinand II of Bourbon, had a feasibility study made. In 1866, the Minister of Public Works, Stefano Jacini, commissioned another study but nothing came of it. Other projects and ideas followed; then, in 1908, there was the devastating earthquake in Messina, highlighting the high seismic risk of the area.
No one talked about the bridge again – until Fascist Italy resurrected the idea, and later on the project also had a mesmerizing effect on the newly formed Republic. An international competition of ideas was announced in 1969: 143 projects were submitted. A total of 3.2 billion liras would be allocated for preliminary studies, which also represented the first costs paid by the state and by Italians to finance a project that has so far existed only in the papers of architects and technicians.
Among the winning designs were a mid-water tunnel anchored to the bottom by steel cables, a three-span cable-stayed bridge, a single-span suspension bridge, and even some versions with three or more spans.
Four years after the establishment of the Stretto di Messina company, Premier Bettino Craxi announced: “We will build the bridge.” With the outbreak of the Tangentopoli scandal in ’92, the project was put on hold. Berlusconi took it up again: in 2005, with a bid of €3.88 billion, Impregilo won the tender. But when everything seemed ready to get the work started, Berlusconi lost the elections and with the arrival of the second Prodi government everything came to a standstill.