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Italy to Look at Infrastructure After Bridge Disaster

Monday, August 20, 2018

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Only days after the collapse of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy, the government has proclaimed that there will be a nationwide safety assessment of its infrastructure, which may be mired due to the lack of a central authority overseeing quality control. As for the Morandi Bridge, its poor condition had reportedly been known for years prior to this week’s disaster.

Authorities report that there may be other issues with the country’s infrastructure, but there is no way to determine the extent due to having such little information. What remains unclear is whether the Morandi Bridge collapse is indicative of a countrywide infrastructure crisis.

Morandi Bridge Collapse

Eyewitness Pietro M all'Asa said that, just after 11:30 a.m. local time, on Aug. 14, lightning struck the bridge. Another unnamed witness said that they heard “an incredible roar,” thinking that it was just thunder nearby. Traffic was disrupted, and the “city was paralyzed.” A heavy thunderstorm was reported at the time of the incident, with recorded 35-mile-per-hour winds, and a gulf now divides two sections of the bridge.

The cable-stayed concrete bridge, known as the Polcevera Viaduct, completed in 1968, was designed by Italian civil engineer Riccardo Morandi. According to website Retrofutur, the bridge is characterized, as are other Morandi structures, by thin prestressed concrete girders and relatively few stays. Three A-shaped concrete pylons hold four prestressed stays apiece. The website has chronicled numerous projects over the years to reinforce the structure, including steel sheaths over the concrete pylons.

Authorities currently suspect that structural weakness caused the collapse. Traffic was also likely heavier than normal due to Ferragosto, a major Italian holiday. During the incident, vehicles fell onto rail tracks, buildings and a river running underneath.

Bridge Condition

Experts issued a warning that the Morandi Bridge might be deteriorating some time before Tuesday's disaster, according to reports. In 2012, the leader of Genoa's business federation noted that the bridge could collapse within 10 years. In 2011, a report from Autostrade per l'Italia, the operator of the A10 highway that ran over the bridge, warned of intense decay.

Officials from the Five Star Movement, which is part of Italy’s governing coalition, opposed plans to replace the Morandi Bridge, citing the idea that the project would likely fall into corruption.

Concerning Infrastructure

Danilo Toninelli, Italy’s transport minister and also a member of Five Star, announced that there would be a comprehensive review of the country’s infrastructure, and that repairs would be made, though it would be a long, expensive endeavor. Along with transportation experts, Toninelli emphasized that much of the country’s infrastructure was built in the 1950s and ’60s, if not earlier, and much of it is beginning to show its age.

The inability to evaluate bridge conditions on a wide scale comes from Italy’s current model of entrusting its roadways to a range of different authorities, including a number of municipalities and fewer private companies that manage the country’s toll highways. In 2001, a law mandated that all relevant entities compile a registry of the infrastructure they maintain. This registry still does not exist, though some progress has been made.

Antonio Occhiuzzi, the director of the National Research Council’s Institute for Construction Technology, told The New York Times that Italy needs an independent infrastructure monitoring agency, going on to note that half of Italy’s 25,000 bridges likely need to be evaluated.

President of Italy’s council of engineers Armando Zambrano dismissed the notion that the country’s infrastructure could be in crisis, saying that maintenance “work is already well regulated.” He did agree that better oversight was needed, however.

There are plans in place for an extended highway system in and around Genoa, which might have eventually allowed for the demolition of the Morandi Bridge. Work on the project has not started.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; EU; Europe; Fatalities; Government; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Program/Project Management

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (8/20/2018, 8:45 AM)

It's pretty shocking that Italy doesn't even have a list of their bridges, much less an organized inspection program. In the USA we have been inspecting, rating and reporting the condition of every bridge at least once every 2 years for decades. You can look up NBI data directly, but I prefer the interface on as they also have information submitted by private citizens for some bridges (Bridgehunter Report). Note that Texas has roughly twice as many bridges as Italy.

Comment from William Feliciano, (8/27/2018, 9:47 AM)

Aside from Italy's lack of a biannual inspection program, the most shocking thing to me about this collapse (though it took me a while to notice, as I compared as-built photos to photos after collapse) was that one of the towers/pylons had collapsed. I had expected the span to have failed due to cable failure, but I didn't expect the support pylon/pier to have gone down. Wow.

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