Experts knew Genoa bridge had weakened 20 per cent: report
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Experts knew Genoa bridge had weakened 20 per cent: report

Genoa, Italy: Engineering experts determined in February that corrosion of the metal cables supporting the Genoa highway bridge had reduced the bridge's strength by 20 per cent - a finding that came months before it collapsed last week, Italian media reported on Monday.

Firefighters work to remove debris from the collapsed Morandi bridge.

Firefighters work to remove debris from the collapsed Morandi bridge.Credit:ANSA/AP

Despite the findings, news magazine Espresso wrote that "neither the ministry, nor the highway company, ever considered it necessary to limit traffic, divert heavy trucks, reduce the roadway from two to one lanes or reduce the speed" of vehicles on the key artery for the northern port city.

A large section of the Morandi Bridge collapsed on August 14 during a heavy downpour, killing 43 people and forcing the evacuation of more than 600 people living in apartment buildings beneath another section of the bridge.

Overnight, workers heard creaking noises coming from the part of the bridge that was still standing, so firefighters suspended an operation allowing evacuated residents to retrieve their belongings from apartments under the bridge.

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The governor of Liguria, Giovanni Toti, said checks were under way to determine what risks may be present. Work continued to clear the tons of bridge debris that cascaded onto a dry riverbed below.

"The area under the bridge is off-limits, except for extreme necessities, because the firefighters decided to further verify following the noises we had today," Toti said. He said a ministerial commission would decide what apartment and other buildings would eventually be demolished for a new bridge to be built.

General view of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy.

General view of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy.Credit:AP

Prosecutors investigating the bridge's collapse have said, among other things, they are looking at possible faulty maintenance or design flaws.

Prosecutor Francesco Cozzi said on Monday they were also looking for any possible weakness in oversight. He said he could not say yet whether the presence of a moveable maintenance platform weighing several tons on the bridge's underside contributed to the collapse.

He repeated that the investigation would take time but said "certainly it will be done in a reasonable time frame."

In its report, Espresso cited the minutes of a meeting of the Genoa public works superintendent, which included Roberto Ferrazza, an architect named to head a government commission looking into the disaster, and Antonio Brencich, an engineer who has been outspoken about the bridge's flaws.

Rescuers work among the rubble of the Morandi highway bridge.

Rescuers work among the rubble of the Morandi highway bridge.Credit:AP

Espresso reporter Fabrizio Gatti told SKY TG24 that a 20 per cent reduction in strength would not be significant in a modern bridge, but on a structure with the known defects of the Morandi Bridge it should have merited swifter, more decisive action.

"Everyone was well aware of the situation on that bridge," Gatti said.

But after that report, former Transport Minister Graziano Delrio told a news conference on Monday that "no one ever signalled the necessity of limiting traffic" on the bridge.

Still, bidding on a €20-million ($22.8-million) contract to reinforce two of the major supports for the bridge, including one that collapsed, was scheduled to close next month.

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The Italian government, meanwhile, appeared divided on how to proceed in relation to Autostrade per l'Italia, the company that operated the section of highway that collapsed.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli was quoted by the Milan daily Corriere della Sera as saying that he supported the nationalisation of Italy's toll highways.

"Think of all the revenues that would return to the government through tolls, to use not to donate to shareholders' dividends but to reinforce the quality of service and security on our roadways," Toninelli was quoted as saying.

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But Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, who is also Italy's interior minister, told reporters he remained in favour of public-private cooperation in infrastructure.

Premier Giuseppe Conte said procedures have been put in place to revoke Autostrade per l'Italia's concession to operate some 3000 kilometres of Italian highways, about half of the total highways operated by private companies.

Italy's main union confederation estimates it would cost the country between €15 billion and €18 billion to revoke the highway rights.

AP