Italy: How many more bridges will collapse?
Italy has just experienced its 9/11, said Elisabetta Ambrosi in Il Fatto Quotidiano, “a watershed, a day that marks a point of no return.” But rather than being attacked by Islamist terrorists, we fell victim to our own corruption and greed. The collapse of the Ponte Morandi in Genoa last week sent dozens of cars and trucks plummeting more than 300 feet to the ground, killing at least 43 people. Six hundred people are now homeless, because the viaduct soars over apartment blocks, and authorities fear that more of the structure might fall. All this while Autostrade per l’Italia, the company that manages nearly half of Italy’s highways, racks up 2.4 billion euros in profits. Autostrade’s parent company, Atlantia, owned by the Benetton family, enjoys these fabulous gains while ordinary Italians drive on the side roads because they can’t afford the outrageous highway tolls. This is the payoff from privatization. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is right to demand that Autostrade’s management resign, and the state should cancel its contracts and take back the highways. “The country is in shock; we are all traumatized.” Someone must pay.
How typical of a populist government “to exploit emotions after a tragedy,” said Ezio Mauro in La Repubblica. We don’t yet know why the bridge collapsed—there will have to be an independent inquiry—but already the governing Five Star Movement is blaming Autostrade, while its coalition partner, the far-right League, is blaming the EU for imposing austerity budgets on Italy. Instead of finger-pointing, we need “a government commitment to immediately guarantee the safety” of the hundreds of bridges and tunnels that Italians “now regard with fear.”
That’s an enormous challenge, said Claudia Voltattorni in Corriere della Sera. Mountainous Italy’s highways require thousands of miles of bridges and viaducts, alternating with long tunnels. Most of these were built more than 50 years ago, when traffic was a fraction of what it is today, out of shoddy reinforced concrete supplied by the mafia. They “have exceeded the life span for which they were designed.” The Morandi bridge, built in 1967, is the 12th bridge to collapse in the past 14 years. Yet the Five Star Movement has always opposed infrastructure spending—particularly in Genoa, where it successfully lobbied against a highway expansion that would have diverted traffic from the Morandi. In fact, on the party’s website, Five Star called warnings of the bridge’s imminent collapse a “fairy tale.”
Even if we spend the money, can we trust that new bridges will be built to code? asked Ernesto Galli della Loggia, also in Corriere della Sera. Italians “have always left much to be desired when it comes to abiding by the law.” Everyone cheats: by driving without insurance, paying workers under the table, or violating building codes. Crimes “committed by the rich and powerful” nearly always go unpunished. If I were the head of Autostrade, “I’d be sleeping pretty peacefully tonight.”