Rome

Politicians, activists slam Sicily bridge-plan extension

Govt extends study process of 8.5-bln-euro project

Politicians, activists slam Sicily bridge-plan extension

(see related) Rome, November 1 - Italian politicians and activists on Thursday slammed a government decision not to cancel a long-awaited and controversial bridge project aimed at connecting Sicily to mainland Italy by extending feasibility tests for another two years. "It's ludicrous. This is the only way to describe the government's choice to extend feasibility studies for the Messina bridge by another two years," said Gianpiero De Toni, the Italy of Values anti-graft party's chief member in the Senate public works committee. "At a time when the country is being strangled by the economic crisis, when (according to recent studies) some 1,000 companies a day closed down in the first nine months of 2012, the government keeps throwing money at public works that aside from being useless, will never be executed". The decision to keep the project afloat was taken at a cabinet meeting that went into early hours Thursday in which the cancellation of the Messina bridge project was evaluated. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) called the decision "unjustifiable when considering it was made by a technical government". The building of the bridge "would cost the government 8.5 billion euros, and it would be completely unusable from a technical point of view, and also it would be built in an area that is protected for its natural qualities, and closely monitored by Europe'', the WWF added. The Messina bridge project is 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. Edoardo Zanchini, vice-president of environmental group Legambiente, said the bridge project should have been scrapped. "The Monti government has taken the wrong decision," he said. "It is against the interests of the country to carry on throwing away public funds on a structure that not only is useless but that is also impossible to build". 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 government statement Thursday, "is motivated by the need to reduce public spending, given the unfavorable international economic situation". 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.

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