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Italian highway chief argues for Strait of Messina bridge

Says EU's Helsinki-Valletta corridor not feasible without it

08 May, 18:14
Italian highway chief argues for Strait of Messina bridge (ANSA) - Rome, May 8 - Italy's highway system chief on Wednesday said European plans for the Helsinki-Valletta corridor requires the resuscitation of the nearly dead mega-project of building a bridge across the Strait of Messina.

"The Helsinki-Valletta corridor appears little plausible without a road connection from Naples onward," wrote Pietro Ciucci, CEO of Italy's state-controlled highway infrastructure firm ANAS.

Ciucci observed that that European Union does not specify "how to connect Calabria to Sicily, and thus remains the necessity of a bridge across the Strait: rail, but also road".

Last Thursday, Italian Industry Minister Flavio Zanonato said building a bridge across the Strait of Messina to connect mainland Italy to Sicily, an erstwhile dream of former premier Silvio Berlusconi, is not a priority for the new government given the current economic climate.

Italy's grand-coalition government, which was sworn in on Sunday, is facing huge challenges with the country in the midst of its longest recession in 20 years.

Speaking to state broadcaster's Radio 2 programme, Zanonato said that while the bridge was an interesting project, it "is absolutely not a priority for Italy".

The idea of building a bridge to link the island of Sicily to the Italian peninsula goes back to Roman times, but modern engineering and planning took shape in the 1950s and 1960s.

But it was Berlusconi who championed actually undertaking the massively ambitious 8.5-billion-euro suspension bridge.

Last year the technocrat government of former premier Mario Monti, who replaced Berlusconi during a peak in the euro crisis in November 2011, decided not to cancel the controversial bridge project but to extend feasibility tests for another two years.

Supporters say the bridge would create jobs and boost Italy's image while bringing Sicily closer to the mainland.

But the bridge has been opposed by environmentalists and dogged by concerns over safety and the potential involvement of the Mafia.

The 3,690-metre-long bridge has been designed to handle 4,500 cars and hour and 200 trains a day.