Italy's 'eternally unfinished' highway enters final stretch - 50 years after construction began

PM claims the 443km Salerno to Reggio Calabria autostrada, which has been plagued by bad management, delays and corruption, will be finished next year

Michael Day
Thursday 21 May 2015 12:33 BST
The Rago Viaduct, one of the highest bridges on the A3 highway
The Rago Viaduct, one of the highest bridges on the A3 highway (Glabb/Creative Commons)

Back in 1966, Lunar 9 was the first spacecraft to achieve a controlled landing on the Moon, England won the World Cup, and Italy opened the first section of the Salerno to Reggio Calabria motorway.

In the intervening half-century space missions have gone on to greater things, England have struggled to repeat their success, and, incredibly, Italy is still plodding on with the construction of the A3, “the eternally unfinished autostrada”, as it’s known.

Construction of the 443km stretch of road, which is supposed to run from Salerno, just south of Naples, down to the capital of the Calabria region, in the toe of the Italian boot, has been plagued by faulty construction, delays and scandal. Campaigners say that during this time it’s come to look like the incarnation of everything that’s wrong with the country, hamstrung by corruption and bad management. “It’s a symbol of how public works are in Italy,” said Stefano Zerbi, spokesman for the national consumer organisation, Codacons.

It’s not lost on anyone that the road stretches from Campania, the regional home of the Camorra crime syndicate, and then passes through the ‘Ndrangheta badlands, including towns such as Rosarno and Gioia Tauro.

When mobsters aren’t creaming off millions from the road building thanks to dodgy contract work, it seems they’re ensuring that the route doesn’t impinge on their other activities. About halfway, the route curves back on itself awkwardly. This detour is said to have been done at the request of a local Mob boss who didn’t want the motorway coming too close to his villa.

This week, however, the Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, who’s on something of a roll in his mission to modernise Italy, after pushing electoral reform through parliament, struck an upbeat note. “We will finish the Salerno-Reggio Calabria,” he told Rai 1 television. “By the end of 2015 all the sites will begin a final speeding up of work and next year at the latest, it will be finished.” Around 3,000 workers are said to be grafting night and day, seven days a week to speed its completion.

But some felt that Mr Renzi had struck an inappropriately triumphal tone, given that 50 years after construction began, the completion day was still uncertain.

“It’s clear to everyone that it will take a miracle for the work to be complete within one more year,” La Repubblica reported. It claimed that ministry of transport documents referred to the final 20km stretch of motorway, from Laino Borgo to Campotenese, being opened in November 2017.

“I’m surprise at the Prime Minister’s announcement,” said Gigi Veraldi, of the Calabrian branch of the Fillea-Cgil construction workers’ union. “It just sounded like propaganda to us.”

And even if it’s “finished” next year or the year after, it is likely that 43km of the autostrada will lack the emergency lane it is supposed to have. “We’ll believe the work on the road is finished when we see it. And that means with all the safety features it’s supposed to have,” said Mr Zerbi.

“In the meantime the Italian tax payer will continue to be out of pocket, and they still won’t have the road they ought to have had decades ago.”

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