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Another Bridge Collapse Highlights Italy's Infrastructure Crisis

Jerrold Colten and Sonia Sirletti

(Bloomberg) -- Italy suffered its second road bridge collapse in 15 months in the northwest region of Liguria, raising major questions about the safety of the country’s aging infrastructure.

A viaduct on a stretch of the A6 highway between the Italian cities of Savona and Turin collapsed on Sunday during what highway officials called “exceptional rain” that caused a huge landslide from a nearby hillside. Twenty meters of the road collapsed, according to a statement from Autostrada dei Fiori, which manages that part of the highway.

No one was hurt and no vehicles were stuck, according to the statement.

Images from the fire department showed mudslides in the hilly area at Madonna del Monte and a section of collapsed road with twisted metal guardrails. Italy has for weeks been battered by extreme weather, including flooding and heavy snow in elevated areas, with at least one Alpine town cut off after avalanches.

Italy’s weak economy and massive debt have left little room for governments to spend on modernizing transportation infrastructure. To limit public investment, many of the country’s largest roadways are operated by private toll companies, which are facing new scrutiny over the maintenance of their networks.

Societa Iniziative Autostradali e Servizi SpA, known as SIAS, manages the roadway where the bridge collapsed on Sunday. Autostrada dei Fiori, which released the comment, is part of SIAS.

The collapse on Sunday was reminiscent of the disaster in Genoa, when a bridge on a highway crossing near the city came down in August 2018, killing 43 people. That road was managed by Atlantia SpA’s toll road unit. The tragedy prompted a debate on how to improve infrastructure and led to a government review of highway concessions. That is not finished yet.

Experts on infrastructure engineering and planning have periodically warned that the country’s roads, many constructed during the economic boom of the early 1960s, are outdated and unable to withstand modern loads and traffic levels. Challenging topography that forces road builders to squeeze structures between mountains and the sea only adds to the cost of monitoring and maintenance.

Reforms to the agencies overseeing roadways at risk, planned in the wake of the Genoa accident, have yet to be enacted. A 2018 report listed as many as four bridges on the A6 as “of concern,” though the viaduct that collapsed on Sunday was not included.

The previous government threatened to revoke the roadway concession held by Atlantia, a company controlled by the Benetton family.

“To see another bridge collapse in the same region where the Morandi Bridge collapsed, with another highway concessionary which isn’t the Benettons, continues to support our thesis that these concessionaires who don’t maintain bridges and roads must no longer have the concessions,” said Luigi Di Maio, foreign minister and leader of the Five Star Movement, a member of the current and previous government.

The collapse is likely to rekindle tensions between Five Star, the biggest partner in the ruling coalition, and its ally the center-left Democratic Party or PD. Five Star lawmakers have taken a harder line against highway operators, pressing for revocation of concessions while PD officials favor reviews of contract conditions.

(Updates with monitoring in 9th, 10th paragraphs.)

--With assistance from John Follain and Daniele Lepido.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jerrold Colten in Milan at jcolten@bloomberg.net;Sonia Sirletti in Milan at ssirletti@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Andrew Davis, Ian Fisher

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