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Berlusconi set to resurrect Messina project

A MASSIVE geotechnical engineering project to lay the foundations for the world's longest suspension bridge between Italy and Sicily looks set to be resurrected following Silvio Berlusconi's victory in the Italian general election last month.

Berlusconi, who gained a wider than expected majority over rival Walter Veltroni, has long championed the project to span the Straits of Messina with a 3.3km bridge.

A construction consortium led by Italian contractor Impregilo was all set to start building the bridge before Romano Prodi ousted Berlusconi in May 2006 and promptly cancelled the project (GE June 2006).

After the April election results, Berlusconi is reported to have said he would resurrect the project that is estimated to have a price tag of 4.7bn (£3.8bn) and that the works could be reopened soon.

Flint & Neil director Ian Firth, who has long been advising client Stretto di Messina on the design of the bridge, said that those historically involved in the project were anticipating the scheme moving forward again.

"We are waiting to see what happens," Firth told GE's sister magazine NCE. "There's a process to go through to get the project back on track but it will not happen overnight. There are very serious practical and commercial issues that need to be overcome."

The 25-year concession to design, build and operate the bridge granted by the Italian government to client Stretto di Messina will need to be renegotiated because of the time lag.

The project was originally given the go ahead by Berlusconi in 2002. A construction consortium was appointed in October 2005 and had been due to start on site in early 2007 before the bridge was scrapped by Prodi in May 2006. He claimed the project was too expensive and that money should be channelled into other essential road and rail infrastructure in Sicily and Calabria.

Berlusconi, who has also promised to build new nuclear plants, will come under pressure to show that Italy can afford the bridge amid warnings from the European Union that it must reduce its public borrowing.

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