1,425 road bridges without owners or maintenance

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On 19 December an alarming letter arrived on the desk of the transport minister: “1,425 overpasses are without an owner”. It was sent by the CEO of the state-owned company that builds and maintains Italy’s highways, ANAS. The information initially remained confidential, seeing that the tragedy of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa with its 43 victims was still fresh in people’s minds, and that the subsequent investigation had found another six viaducts where mandatory inspections were rigged. The effects of time, heavy traffic and carelessness on the part of the concessionaires were beginning to take their toll: on 28 October 2016, the Annone overpass on the SS36 road between Milan and Lecco collapsed under the weight of a truck and ended up on two cars passing beneath; on 9 March 2017, the Osimo motorway bridge near Ancona collapsed; on 18 April 2018 it was the turn of a bridge at Fossano near Cuneo, which crashed down onto a Carabinieri patrol car. A few weeks ago, the Puleto viaduct on the E45 was closed by the Arezzo state prosecutor’s office “since it constituted a risk”. The reason is always the same: those who operate the infrastructures fail to carry out maintenance.

Who do the viaducts on ANAS roads belong to?
Let’s start with the Annone bridge. For years no one intervened because ANAS thought it was the responsibility of the provincial council, and vice versa, as the amount of heavy goods traffic continued to increase until it finally gave way. The newly-appointed CEO Gianni Armani had raised a problem that his predecessors had ignored: “Might there be other roads where it is unclear who should intervene if they are in poor condition?.” In early 2017, he began a survey of bridges across the network managed by the state-owned company: over 27,000 kilometres of main roads, motorways, by-passes and other highways. They counted 2,994 whose ownership was uncertain. After a year of investigations ANAS discovered that it owned 983 of them, and that 586 belonged other companies; however, no owner or operator was found for a staggering 1,425 viaducts.

Alarming letter to ministry
The situation was brought to light when Armani expressed his concern in a (previously unpublished) letter to the minister on 19 December: “For 1,425 bridges and flyovers it was not possible to find records on file that showed who owned them and was responsible for their upkeep. We have previously requested information on permits granted for the transport of special goods, and on the conditions and maintenance of the works. Considering that to date many of our requests for information have remained unanswered, we ask the Ministry to provide precise guidelines regarding the action to be undertaken.” A few days before leaving his post, Armani also asked for advice on “the administrative and financial procedures ANAS may adopt to ensure safety on dangerous infrastructures”. In other words: if ANAS has to deal with the problem, it needs funds.

One bridge in four is over half a century old
According to ANAS, over 50% of the bridges are 40 years old and almost one in four over 50. It is not always possible to ascertain with certainty who is responsible for a bridge because in many cases they have changed ownership or management. If the owners are private, as in the case of consortia or individual companies, these may be affected by legal disputes, liquidation and deaths among the senior management. When the staff and company contacts change, everything gets confused. When, instead, public bodies are involved, they try to shift responsibility onto one another, even through the courts, and in the absence of intervention, everyone trusts to good fortune.

The regional record for “orphaned” works is held by Campania: 307, practically all of them. The case of the SS7bis, which crosses the provinces of Caserta and Naples, is emblematic. This busy road was built following the 1980 earhquake that hit the region, and was paid for by the Cassa del Mezzogiorno development fund. In the section of road that crosses the council districts of Orta, Gricignano and Succivo, ANAS reported 13 overpasses for which nobody accepts resposibility. The mayor of Orta di Atella, Andrea Villano, a professional engineer, has closed down three, but explained that “the problem is that rubble could fall at any moment on the traffic below – this is a time bomb!”. Villano asked ANAS for emergency intervention, and they in turn denied responsibility before the regional administrative court of Campania: “The town council must take care of it”. The town council however does not have the money. So, we are in a stalemate, as cars and lorries continue to speed along the roads, unsuspecting of the risk.

Lombardy, Veneto and Marche
Lombardy is home to 121 “orphaned” bridges, and Veneto 112. Two of these are on the SS629 Lake Monate road, built in 1963. “Now I don’t know for sure who the owner is, even though I always assumed it was ANAS,” said the mayor of Malgesso, Giuseppe Iocca, who is also an engineer. “It’s very difficult to get to the bottom of the matter, since our technician has moved to another town council”. We see a similar situation in Bussolengo, in Veneto, on the old SS12 Abetone and Brenner road, connecting Pisa to the Austrian border (built in 1928) and on the Transpolesana from Verona to Rovigo, built in the 1980s. These are roads on which ANAS has nevertheless carried out work, as it did on the bridge over the Chieti-Pescara road, used by 40,000 vehicles daily, but only after its cement started to crumble. The consortium that built it in 1975 has long since wound up. ANAS however no longer wants to take care of it, for two reasons: 1) it takes a lot of money to repair Italian bridges; 2) they are not authorized to intervene on others’ infrastructures.

Hot potato on the minister’s desk
On 8 January the ministry replied to ANAS: “In the meantime, continue to survey the works whose ownership needs to be established,” wrote the director general Antonio Parente, “but the seriousness of the situation that has emerged implies that there may have been irregularities.”
Basically, he said that ANAS had failed in its obligations by letting this happen over time, and added that he would shortly appoint a technical taskforce. So is the ministry looking to pick a fight with ANAS? The situation is serious, but a month later no taskforce has been set up. Armani was dismissed, and since 21 December there has been Massimo Simonini at the helm. “We have created a new ANAS; we’ve had enough of wasting money and providing jobs for the boys”, said transport and infrastructures minister Danilo Toninelli. Simonini, who has been with ANAS for 20 years, and whose promotion saw him jump three ranks up the corporate ladder, was previously the manager responsible for bridges, viaducts and tunnels. This means he is familiar with the list of “orphans”, since he was involved in the survey. At this point, we are all familiar with it. So get to work, preferably before another bridge collapses.

4 febbraio 2019 (modifica il 4 febbraio 2019 | 18:51)



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