Italy Mulls Nationalizing Private-run Highways After Bridge Collapse

Tom Ozimek
By Tom Ozimek
August 23, 2018Worldshare

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Thursday, Aug. 23, he was against nationalizing the country’s motorways following the Genoa bridge disaster.

Salvini, who is also the interior minister, rejected calls to bring under government control Italy’s vast network of privately managed toll roads and bridges, amid the fallout from the Aug. 14 Morandi viaduct collapse that killed 43.

“I am not in favor of nationalizations,” Salvini said in a radio interview, but he added that the terms of state concessions needed to be reviewed and he was open to the possibility of “a mix of public and private management.”

Italy's Matteo Salvini attending a news conference
File photo of Italy’s Matteo Salvini attending a news conference in Innsbruck, Austria, July 12, 2018. Salvini is pushing back against calls to nationalize Italy’s motorway network. (Lisi Niesner/Reuters/File Photo)

Most of Italy’s highway system of about 6,750 kilometers (approx. 4,200 miles) of roads is managed by private companies under state-issued concessions. The Atlantia group, through its subsidiary Autostrade per L’Italia, runs around 3,000 kilometers (approx. 1,900 miles) of these.

Autostrade is also the company that was responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the collapsed Genoa bridge, and it has come under intense fire by politicians keen to channel public fury and contain the political fallout from the tragedy.

A rescue helicopter crew inspects the site of the collapsed Morandi Bridge
A rescue helicopter crew inspects the site of the collapsed Morandi bridge in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. (Massimo Pinca/Reuters)

Italy’s other deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, said in a Facebook post the day following the disaster, “Those responsible for the tragedy in Genoa have a name and a surname, and they’re called Autostrade per l’Italia.”

Engineering specialists, too, speculate on what brought the bridge down. Some point to known design flaws, others question maintenance. Overwhelmingly, though, they said nothing definitive can be proclaimed until the investigation has run its course.

Stefano Marigliani, Autostrade’s area director for Genoa, said the collapse was “unexpected and unpredictable.”

“The bridge was constantly monitored and supervised well beyond what the law required. There was no reason to consider the bridge dangerous.”

Still, Premier Giuseppe Conte said that procedures have begun to revoke Autostrade per l’Italia’s concession to operate half the country’s roads, a move estimated by Mediobanca analysts to cost the government about 22 billion euros ($25.5 billion) in early cancellation penalties.

Concession to Operate

Other analyses, including by Italy’s main union confederation, put the cost at between 15 billion and 18 billion euros ($17 billion and $21 billion).

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has criticized moves to take away the concession, saying it would not only punish Autostrade, but put an strain on Italy’s beleaguered public finances.

“Governing is more complicated than writing a Facebook post: If the concession is canceled, paradoxically it’s a gift for Autostrade, because of the amount of money you would have to pay” to cancel the contract, Berlusconi said, according to The Local.

“In the face of such a tragedy, a civilized nation should come together instead of dividing itself,” he said, adding the caveat that those responsible “should pay every last cent.”

But calls for a more measured response are unlikely to be heeded by some of Italy’s governing politicians, at least not in the immediate wake of the tragedy.

“There’s no desire for revenge in Genoa but there is a need for JUSTICE,” Salvini tweeted on Monday.

Some members of the coalition of Salvini’s right-wing League party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement have gone even further, calling for the state to take over all the motorways.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli was quoted by the Milan daily Corriere della Sera as saying that he supported the nationalization of Italy’s toll highways.

“Think of all the revenues that would return to the government through tolls, to use not to donate to shareholders’ dividends but to reinforce the quality of service and security on our roadways,” Toninelli was quoted as saying.

It is unclear how financially viable a solution this might be, given the lack of feasibility studies or the dire state of Italy’s crumbling infrastructure that is in need of massive investment.

An Italian civil engineering association recently said tens of thousands of bridges and viaducts are well past their prime and need repair or replacement.

From The Epoch Times

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