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December start for Messina bridge

Work on a long-envisioned and bitterly contested bridge connecting Sicily to mainland Italy will begin in December, the infrastructure minister said Thursday.

Construction on the €5 bn (£4.6bn) project will begin December 23 and will last until 2016, employing some 40,000 people, Altero Matteoli told Italy’s Sky TG24 TV.

The initial work will prepare the ground for the 3,690m (12,000 ft) long bridge by moving a railroad on the mainland and building roads near the Sicilian city of Messina, he said.

The concept of a bridge spanning the Strait of Messina has been debated in Italy since the 19th century.

Government after government has promised to embark on one of the biggest public works projects in Italy’s history only to back down in the face of the high costs and risks tied to what would be one of the world’s longest suspension bridges.

Critics maintain the money would be better spent on improving infrastructure in Italy’s underdeveloped south, saying the mammoth bridge, with six main traffic lanes, would be of little use in an area that has few and narrow highways.

Matteoli told Sky that much of the money would come from private funding tied to project, so the bridge would not take up resources that could be used elsewhere.

Environmental groups have said the bridge will damage the environment, in particular bird migrations, and poses a danger because of the risk of earthquakes in the highly seismic area.

In 2001, a government commissioned study also acknowledged there was a risk of mob infiltration in the project, mainly due to the huge sums of money involved.



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