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It's overpriced, favoured by the Mafia and at risk from earthquakes — but 15 years after it was conceived, it's still not been canned. Michael Day tells how an engineering marvel became a parable of modern Italy. It was supposed to be one of the engineering marvels of 21st century Europe. But despite decades of hype, plans for the world's biggest suspension bridge between Sicily and mainland Italy have yet to come to fruition, and most observers think they never will.
So austerity-hit Italians are now asking why the usually parsimonious Monti government has just signalled its continued financial support for what newspapers have dubbed the "phantom bridge". This month, to the incredulity of the project's many opponents, the technocrat government of Mario Monti announced a two-year extension in funding of the "exploratory work" into the project by the Messina Strait company.
However, environmental group Legambiente said ministers were effectively passing the buck and leaving it up to a subsequent elected government decide the project's fate while "wasting money in the meantime on useless tests". It is probably no coincidence that the pro-bridge lobby consists largely of members of the centre-right PDL party, on whose parliamentary support Premier Monti relies.
The last centre-left government — that of Romano Prodi — shelved the project in , only for it to be exhumed when Silvio Berlusconi returned to power in A verbose Messina Strait company statement claims that it has made "a strong acceleration" towards realisation of the project following the interruption. But the Italian press isn't convinced. It noted the Messina Strait company would continue paying the salaries of 50 or so people, including senior police chiefs and an executive from the Rai state TV company.
Spending on the project will at least be lower that the pre-recession levels seen between and , when the Berlusconi government financed all sorts of consultancy studies, from those on the "emotional impact" of the bridge for local people to the "physico-chemical characteristics of the waters of the Strait and their influence on migrating whales".