Political pressure is mounting on Autostrade after the collapse of a motorway bridge, maintained by the Italian toll road operator, with leading politicians attacking the company over the incident that has left 39 dead.
Giuseppe Conte, prime minister, said the government would start a procedure to revoke Autostrade’s concession without waiting for the findings of a criminal investigation. He also declared a state of emergency in Genoa, the scene of Tuesday’s collapse. Autostrade operates just under 3,000km, or almost half, of the country’s motorway network under a deal that is due to expire in 2038.
The company is 88 per cent owned by the Italian-Spanish infrastructure operator Atlantia and in 2017 generated more than €3.6bn in revenue, equivalent to more than 60 per cent of its parent’s annual revenues of just under €6bn. Earlier Luigi Di Maio, deputy prime minister and leader of the Five Star Movement, blamed Autostrade’s management for the incident.
“The people responsible for what happened have a name and a surname, they are Autostrade per l’Italia,” he told Radio Radicale. “We are dealing with one of the main contracting companies in Europe and they told us that the bridge was safe.” The public prosecutor’s office opened a criminal inquiry into the fatal collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa, which also left at least 16 people injured.
Part of the bridge’s structure came down in heavy rain while Autostrade was carrying out maintenance work. Danilo Toninelli, Italy’s transport minister, also said in a Facebook post that procedures would be started for the possible revocation of Autostrade’s concession and fines against the company. Matteo Salvini, Italy’s other deputy prime minister and leader of the far-right League, also weighed in but was more circumspect in attributing blame.
“Our responsibility will be to check all public works . . . and identify the culprits of this disaster,” he said. Autostrade said in response to the ministers’ statements that it was “confident of being able to demonstrate that it has always correctly fulfilled its obligations as a concessionaire”. “It is a confidence based on monitoring and maintenance activities carried out on the basis of the best international standards,” the company said. “Moreover, it is not possible at this stage to formulate any reliable hypothesis on the causes of the collapse.”
The company said it had invested more than €1bn annually over the past five years in safety and maintenance. Atlantia, whose largest shareholder is the Benetton family with a 38 per cent stake, called an extraordinary board meeting for Monday to discuss the bridge disaster, according to a person informed of the decision.
Mr Salvini also questioned whether EU budget rules had prevented investment in infrastructure. “If there are European constraints preventing us from spending money to secure the schools attended by our children or the highways our workers are travelling on, we will put the safety of Italians ahead of everyone and everything,” he wrote on Twitter.
Giovanni Tria, finance minister, said the collapse of the bridge underlined “the absolute necessity of a major public investment plan in infrastructure the government is already working on”, adding that a large public infrastructure investment plan was “a priority of the current government for which there will be no budgetary constraints”.
The 80m-long section of the bridge that crumbled stood about 45m over the Polcevera river as well as railway tracks and an industrial and retail estate. The bridge is part of the A10 toll motorway, a major route linking the French and Italian Rivieras, and was opened in 1967. Italy’s stock market was closed on Wednesday for a public holiday. Shares in Atlantia fell 5.4 per cent on Tuesday.