Analysis. The Lega leader is jubilant about a new report claiming to be able to build the 3.3 km bridge in seven years at a cost of €14.6 billion. Meloni’s party is silent.

Salvini restarts Messina Bridge project with a questionable report

After years of floundering, the board of directors of Stretto di Messina, the joint-stock company established 43 years ago and the concession holder for the design of the Messina Strait Bridge, is back in high gear thanks to Infrastructure and Transport Minister Matteo Salvini. On Thursday, it approved the report of the company entrusted with the project which updated the 2011 Final Project of the epitome of Italian “great works.”

The report envisions a 3.3-kilometer-long bridge, designed to last 200 years. It guarantees average crossing times “of about 15 minutes” for rail services from Villa San Giovanni to Messina, compared to the current 120 minutes via ferry for passenger trains and at least 180 minutes for freight trains, and “about 10 to 13 minutes by road,” compared to the current 70 minutes for cars and 100 minutes for freight vehicles.

On the employment front, the paper argues that the bridge will lead to an additional 30,000 jobs per year, plus 90,000 in induced employment, over the life of the construction site. These numbers and figures are being challenged by environmentalists, local No Bridge groups and the opposition in Parliament.

Now the ministerial process will begin, ending with the approval by the Interministerial Committee for Economic Planning and Sustainable Development, which is expected to arrive in June. The project’s advocates hope that some preliminary work will begin by next summer, and work on the bridge proper will start the following year. They estimate that it would be open to car and rail traffic within seven years – a highly optimistic estimate, according to many.

The biggest doubts are around the costs, which must not rise more than 50 percent compared to those envisaged by the initial tender or the whole process will be canceled with the start of a new procedure. In the 2023 Economy and Finance Document, the government estimated the cost of the project at €14.6 billion, almost one point of GDP.

For now, Salvini is jubilant, while the criticism is pouring in. The WWF NGO recalls that the government has blocked substantial resources for this project until 2032 “without having credible estimates on the magnitude of the final costs of the work, on its profitability from an economic-financial point of view, or on the very serious effects on the environment and the territory, as the Court of Auditors has pointed out.”

In order to finance the Bridge with €11.6 billion, the government appropriated part of the Development and Cohesion Funds for Sicily and Calabria, diverting €1.6 billion intended for other priority investments.

“In the budget law, the government has also reserved the right to go off in search of ‘additional resources and financial coverage for the realization of the work’ over time,” the environmental NGO points out. “This shows that it has no idea how much the costs could balloon in the future.”

Last week, the PD and the Green Left Alliance announced that they had filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office about the lack of transparency surrounding the Bridge and the way the project is being managed.

“The contract assigning it to Stretto di Messina SPA was signed on September 29,” recalls Europa Verde spokesman Angelo Bonelli. “And the update report was delivered the next day, September 30. This implies that the work was completed in a single day. However, instead of meeting the 30-day deadline for approval, four and a half months have passed, raising doubts about the completeness of the report itself. It is clear that the board of directors of the Stretto di Messina company has delayed this phase for more than 130 days without reaching an agreement for approval. We requested access to the contents, but this request was denied. We look forward to reviewing the documents for a thorough evaluation, including a cost-benefit analysis showing the positive impact of the project. The update to the final design marks the start of the public debate.”

From the M5S, House Transportation Committee group leader Gabriella Di Girolamo pointed out the reservedness of those in Meloni’s party: “The jubilation of the Lega and Forza Italia should be viewed together with the deathly silence coming from Fratelli d’Italia.”

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