Rome, November 1 - The Italian government has decided not to cancel a long-awaited and controversial bridge project that would connect Sicily to mainland Italy, but to extend feasibility tests for another two years. In a cabinet meeting that went into early hours Thursday, ministers met to discuss cancellation of the Messina bridge project, named after the narrow strait between Sicily and the peninsula. The planned 8.5-billion-euro suspension bridge was the brainchild of the ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi. The technocrat government of Premier Mario Monti, who replaced Berlusconi after he was forced to step down during a peak in the euro crisis last November, has said the project "was not a priority" given the current economic climate. "This decision," said a statement Thursday, "is motivated by the need to reduce public spending, given the unfavorable international economic situation". The cabinet also noted that the bridge did not qualify for European Union co-financing, as it does not fall within "the strategic guidelines on trans-European corridors". Environmental group Legambiente blasted the "flawed" decision of the government to kick the issue down the road for the next administration, while "wasting money in the meantime on useless tests". "The only winner in this case is the (pro-bridge) lobby," said Legambiente Vice-President Edoardo Zanchini. Supporters hail the bridge as a huge job-creation scheme that would give Italy's image a major boost while bringing Sicily closer to the mainland in both physical, psychological and social terms. But it has been opposed by environmentalists and dogged by concerns over its safety and fears of potential Mafia involvement. The 3,690-metre-long bridge has been designed to be able to handle 4,500 cars an hour and 200 trains a day and would replace slow ferry services between the island and the mainland.