On Tuesday, Mateo Salvini, the Italian Infrastructure Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister announced that Italian construction companies will build the Strait of Messina bridge. The suspension bridge will link the island of Sicily with the Italian mainland.
While the Italian government hailed the project as a new age of prosperity, many believe the bridge will never materialize. The project has been stopping and starting for decades, so let’s discover what’s the latest with the $11B Sicily suspension bridge.
The Messina Strait Bridge
The Messina Strait is the shortest crossing between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Plans to bridge the two areas have existed since Roman times.
Since the 1960s, several Italian governments have tried to initiate the project, but the bridge has yet to materialize due to austerity and lack of government support.
The bridge will span 3.11 miles (5km) from Messina in the south of Sicily to Calabria – also known as the toe of the boot of Italy. It will have a central span of 2 – 2.1 miles (3.2 -2.2km) and will be the widest suspension bridge in the world.
According to Road Traffic Technology, the bridge will be windproof up to gusts of 134 mph (216 km/h). It will also be resistant to extreme earthquakes of up to 7.1 on the Richter scale – which is just as well because it will sit in an active earthquake zone.
Mateo Salvini said construction will start next summer, 2024, and estimates it will take five years to complete.
Flagship Government Project
Italy’s new Nationalist government has made the bridge their flagship project. EuroNews reports that the bridge will help close the wealth gap between the north and south of the country.
They also believe it will reduce the cost of shipping cargo because boats can unload onto trains from the Suarez Canal in Sicily and ship goods from the north of the island.
Reuters reports that there have been many international bids, including from China, for the project, but the government intends to award it to an Italian firm. It’s likely to be awarded to an Italian consortium, Webuild, which initially held it in 2006.
Last month, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni revived the company in her first budget. She also aims to secure funding for the $11bn project from the EU, though it’s not eligible for the EU covid recovery plan funding.
The Benefits And Controversies
The bridge could provide vital economic opportunities for southern Italy and Sicily and improve local connections. The only way to cross from Messina to the mainland is by boat.
The boat can be unbearably overcrowded in the summer, and the service is unreliable due to bad weather in the winter.
Past governments scrapped plans for the bridge because they didn’t think the area around had adequate road and rail networks to support enough traffic to generate income.
Some believed that it could strengthen organized crime networks. The main concern, however, is that the Messina Strait sits in an active earthquake zone.
There are also concerns about how the bridge would affect the local ecology. Reuters reports that the president of Legambiente Sicilia, an environmental group, is against the plans.
He thinks the ferries are sufficient, cost-effective, and have a low environmental impact and that the bridge is a useless project that will never materialize.
Portugal was also in the news recently with plans to build a bridge. It will be the third one to cross the Tagus River in Lisbon.