The dream of a bridge linking the continent to the Sicily across the Strait of Messina dates back to Roman times, when consul Metellus joined barrels and sticks to transport 100 war elephants from Carthage to Rome in 252 BC, according to the writings of Pliny the Elder.
Since then, various projects, including an ephemeral idea for a tunnel, have succeeded without materializing.
If built, the bridge over the Strait of Messina will span 3.2 kilometers and be the longest suspension bridge in the world.
Now the massive engineering project can go ahead, thanks to a decree passed by Giorgia Meloni’s government last month, based on a plan promoted by Transport Minister Matteo Salvini when Silvio Berlusconi was prime minister.
In 2006, the tender for the construction of the bridge was awarded to a consortium led by the Italian company Salini Impregilo, now called WeBuild.
Plans to build the bridge collapsed with the Berlusconi government the same year after the next prime minister, Romano Prodi, deemed it a waste of money and an environmental risk.
Since then, various governments have tried to revive it, and the current government coalition under Meloni, Salvini and Berlusconi has put it on its list of campaign promises.
WeBuild, which still has the tender on paper, for follow-up the government for breach of contract after the project was abandoned, but remains the company most likely to take it over despite “expressions of interest from all over the world, including China”, Salvini told the Foreign Press Association in Rome in March when he unveiled the plan.
“Those who won the 2006 competition are the ones who will likely continue,” he said, without directly naming WeBuild.
THE cost of the project is 4.5 billion euros ($4.96 billion) for the bridge alone and 6.75 billion euros ($7.4 billion) for the infrastructure that will support it on both sides , which includes the modernization of road and rail links, the construction of terminals and the preparation of land and underwater works to “reduce hydrogeological risks”, according to the plan presented to the transport ministry.
Since 1965, 1.2 billion euros (1.3 billion dollars) of public funds have already spent in studies, according to the Italian Ministry of Finance. Salvini likes to say that it will cost more “not to build the bridge than to build it”.
The mafia and the fear of the earthquake
Southern Italy is prone to corruption with two major organized crime syndicates – the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta and the Sicilian Cosa Nostra – excelling in intrusive construction projects.
The recent arrest of Cosa Nostra leader Matteo Messina Denaro after 30 years of activity in Sicily was a success in the fight against organized crime.
Denaro was against the construction of the bridge, according to the testimony of informants who helped Denaro’s arrest.
Additionally, an anti-Mafia study by the Nomos Center think tank published 20 years ago and currently being updated warned that parts of the project, such as transportation and supply, could fall under criminal control, as well as the possibility that their members demand money to protect themselves.
Salvini played down the concerns. “I’m not afraid of criminal infiltration,” he recently told parliament, “we can guarantee that the best Italian, European and global companies work there. There will be oversight bodies that we work with for every euro invested in the bridge.”
There are also geophysical issues which can be even more difficult to deal with, as the Strait of Messina lies along a fault line where a earthquake Of magnitude 7.1 in 1908, killed more than 100,000 people and caused a tsunami that devastated coastal areas on both sides of Calabria and Sicily. It remains the most deadly seismic event recorded in Europe to date.
THE currents they are also so powerful that according to NASA, the waves are visible from space.
According to WeBuild’s original design, which is the only one under consideration as bids have not been opened, the bridge deck will be built to withstand the winds up to 300 km/h – and could remain open to traffic in winds of up to 150 km/h.
There would be three vehicle lanes in each direction – two for traffic and one for emergencies, with train tracks in the middle. According to the current plan, 6,000 cars and trucks could pass every hour and 200 trains could pass every day.
The bridge will be approximately 74 meters above sea level in a 600 meter navigation channel, allowing the passage of cargo ships and even the tallest cruise ships. It would also be designed to it lasts In earthquake 7.5 on the Richter scale, slightly stronger than the devastating 1908.
As for the geographic challenges, WeBuild engineering director Michele Longo told CNNi it’s “one of the most dynamic parts of water, but it’s also one of the most studied areas. There are millions of pages of studies dedicated to this area. We’ve read them all.” On the risks of his involvement organized crime he said “nothing is impossible, but it is low risk”.
Environmentalists have long argued that the bridge would be devastating to land and wildlife.
“In the Strait of Messina, there is a very important passage point for birds and marine mammals, and it is one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in the world”, explains a representative of the Legambiente group, adding that the bridge – both during and after construction – will disturb them migratory routes between Africa and Europe.
The World Wildlife Fund has also campaigned against the construction of the project. “The whole area of the Strait of Messina is protected area in accordance with the European Habitats Directive,” said WWF Institutional Relations Director Stefano Lenzi. In 2006, before the plan was abandoned, the team was preparing complaint to try and arrest him for violating European Union protected areas.
The impact on the economy would undoubtedly be high, Salvini insists, saying cargo ships from Asia could dock in Sicily and goods could be transported by high-speed trains to Europe once high-speed rail lines would be built in Sicily – whether and not. currently exist.
THE public opinion on both sides of the strait it remains divided, between those who support the project because it could prosper from increased trade and tourism and those who don’t mind keeping Sicily largely isolated.
The bridge has never been closer to being built than it is now, after Meloni signed the executive order to pave the way for specific plans to be put in place, with the executive order becoming law on June.
The Strait of Messina has long been considered troubled waters. Homer created the lair of sea monsters there for some reason for Scylla and Charybdis. And while the only monsters may be ecological and criminal, there is no doubt that no matter when it happens, the dream of some to build the bridge to Messina will not stop until it is realized.
CNNi – Italy wants to build the longest suspension bridge in the world. The Mafia and Geography Could Make It Tough – By Barbie Latza Nadeau, CNN