Italy revives plans to build world’s largest suspension bridge


Rome : For long a pet project of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a plan to build the world’s largest suspension bridge linking Sicily to Italy’s mainland was revived Friday by the Italian government.

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The cabinet meeting in Rome approved a 17.8-billion-euro ($22.4 billion) public works programme including new rail links, motorways and tunnels.

Some 1.3 billion euros have been earmarked for the bridge project which is estimated to be worth a total of 6.1 billion euros.

Speaking ahead of the cabinet meeting, Infrastructure Minister Altero Matteoli said the public works programme would create some 140,000 jobs, and help boost Italy’s recession-battered economy.

Matteoli said that in the 1970s Italy came second in Europe among countries involved in infrastructure projects, but is now 19th out of 27 European Union member states.

Billionaire-turned-politician Berlusconi pushed plans to build the nearly 4 km road-and-rail bridge over the Messina Straits during his previous stint in government in 2001-2006.

But the project, then estimated to be worth 4.4-billion-euros and scheduled for completion in 2012, was shelved by the subsequent centre-left government which said it was not a priority for the country.

Supporters of the bridge say its construction would help boost development in Sicily and other parts of Italy’s relatively impoverished south.

But opponents including many environmentalists say the money would be better spent improving local motorways and infrastructure.