Italian Government reach agreement with Benetton family over Genoa bridge collapse

15 July 2020, 16:46

The new bridge, to replace the Morandi Bridge, was completed in April
The new bridge, to replace the Morandi Bridge, was completed in April. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The Italian Government has claimed victory in a battle stemming from the deadly 2018 collapse of Genoa's main bridge.

It comes after the Benetton fashion family agreed to exit the holding company that manages and maintains most of Italy's toll roads and bridges.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte announced the agreement nearly two years after 43 people died in the collapse of the Morandi Bridge, a disaster that has been blamed on poor maintenance.

The deal avoids the possibility that the Government could revoke the concession Autostade per l'Italia has to manage most of Italy's toll roads and bridges, which it had threatened to do in the immediate aftermath of the collapse.

Such a revocation would have proved financially disastrous for the company and its foreign shareholders, and led to years of costly legal battles to contest the decision.

There was no immediate comment from the Benetton family, Autostrade or other affiliated companies.

43 people died in the collapse of the Morandi Bridge
43 people died in the collapse of the Morandi Bridge. Picture: PA

Mr Conte said as part of the deal Autostrade has agreed to become a public company and to pay 3.4 billion euros (£3.1 billion) in compensation while also investing more in road maintenance and security.

In a statement, Mr Conte claimed a victory in the negotiations and said the Government had affirmed a principle throughout.

He said: "That public infrastructure is a precious public good that must be managed responsibly and guarantee security and efficient service."

The Morandi Bridge, which opened in the 1960s, was a key artery that linked Genoa to highways to Milan and France, a vital lifeline for both commercial traffic as well as holidaymakers bound for the mountains and Mediterranean beaches.

A large section of the bridge collapsed on August 14 2018, killing 43 people and forcing the evacuation of nearby residents from the densely built-up area.

It was the deadliest in a series of bridge disasters that exposed the state of Italy's ageing road infrastructure.

The Italian engineer who designed the span, Riccardo Morandi, warned in 1979 that the bridge would require constant maintenance to remove rust given the effects of corrosion from sea air and pollution on the concrete.

After the collapse, it emerged authorities were well aware the concrete had corroded and that the bridge was structurally compromised.

Criminal investigations were opened to ascertain criminal blame but the Government immediately accused Autostrade of neglecting to maintain the span.

At the time, Autostrade apologised and said it was prepared to take action beyond any criminal charges against any managers who might have been responsible.

The Government has granted two dozen private companies the right to manage Italy's highways, bridges and tunnels.

The Benettons' Autostrade is by far the biggest, controlling some 1,876 miles of highway.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said: "This means the Benettons won't manage our highways.

"This was our principle objective and we obtained it."

Mr Conte recently was in Genoa to attend a key stage in the construction of a replacement bridge, this one designed by architect and Genoa native Renzo Piano.