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Italy Says Highway Managers Must Go After Deadly Bridge Collapse

Bloomberg

The Italian government called on managers at Atlantia Spa’s highway-operator unit to resign following the collapse of a bridge in the northern city of Genoa that killed at least 39 people.

“Autostrade per l’Italia’s top management must resign,” Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said Wednesday in a post on Facebook. “And given that there have been serious breaches, I announce that we have activated the procedures for the possible withdrawal of the concessions and for sanctions of up to 150 million euros ($170 million),” he said.

“If they are not able manage our highways, the state will do it,” Toninelli said.

At least 39 people were killed, the civil protection agency said, when a section of the 1,100-meter (3,600-foot) long viaduct gave way following heavy rain around midday on Tuesday. The road was built in the 1960s and sat on thin pylons as it crossed a river, railroad tracks, and buildings carrying traffic through the heart of Genoa.

Autostrade Management

Similar calls on the management of Autostrade to step down and threats of possible withdrawal of its license to operate the country’s highways came from the deputy premiers Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, heads respectively of the ruling coalition’s partners Five Star Movement and League.

Speaking to reporters in the southern Calabria region on Wednesday, Salvini also said that Italy will invest in the 2019 budget law all the needed resources to improve the country’s infrastructure regardless of the European Union budget constraints. On Tuesday, hours after the collapse, he said that there can’t be a tradeoff between the citizens’ safety and the fiscal rules.

The EU has long encouraged investment in infrastructure in Italy, the Brussels-based European Commission said in a statement on Wednesday. Its 2018 country-specific recommendations “called on the Italian authorities to better target investments to foster infrastructural development,” the statement said.

Atlantia was not immediately available to comment on the ministers’ request for the top management’s resignation or on the possible revoking of management license.

In a statement on Wednesday the Autostrade unit said that the outcome of the monitoring activities and of the verification activities carried out at the Genoa bridge on a quarterly basis by outside parties “always provided the company’s technical structures with adequate reassurances on the state of the infrastructure.”

“These same outcomes were used as a basis for the design of maintenance interventions on the viaduct approved by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport according to the law,” Autostrade said.

The company reiterated its willingness to provide the competent institutions with all the support necessary to ascertain the causes of the collapse and to restore the highway as quickly as possible by rebuilding the bridge.

At Risk

About 300 bridges and tunnels across the nation are at risk, daily newspaper la Repubblica reported on Wednesday, citing industry experts and engineers.

“We cannot fail to examine carefully and rigorously the causes and responsibilities,” Finance Minister Giovanni Tria said in an unusually forceful statement Wednesday. “Nobody will have to hide behind the alibi of a lack of funds or budgetary constraints.”

The finance chief added that the disaster in Genoa highlights “the absolute necessity of a major public investment in an infrastructure plan that the government is already working on” and that will include “the unblocking of investments and maintenance interventions for which funds are already available.”

Benetton Family

The Benetton family is the biggest investor in Atlantia, which also manages highways in Chile, India, and Brazil, and airports in Italy and France. Atlantia jointly controls Spanish toll-road operator Abertis Infraestructuras in partnership with Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA.

Atlantia Chief Executive Officer Giovanni Castellucci said on Tuesday the company had not received any specific reports or alerts regarding the bridge’s solidity.

Atlantia’s 1 billion euros of bonds due July 2027 dropped two cents on the euro since the bridge collapsed to 95 cents, the lowest on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company’s shares fell 5.4 percent in Milan on Tuesday and are not being traded on Wednesday as the stock market is closed due to a public holiday.