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How did Italy manage to build a replacement Genoa bridge so quickly?

The replacement for Genoa's Morandi bridge — which collapsed in 2018 killing 43 people — was built in fewer than two years, a record in Italy where such a structure usually takes about a decade to be constructed.

The new €202 million San Georgio bridge was built in just 15 months at the "the right costs and the right way", Marco Bucci, the mayor of Genoa and the commissioner for the reconstruction said.

This is quite an achievement given most construction work in Italy exceeding €100 million usually takes about 14 years to complete — 10 in the rosiest of scenarios. Most of that time — seven to eight years — is spent selecting the building company while the other two years are spent on the actual construction.

Maurizio Milan, who has been collaborating since 1983 with Renzo Piano — the renowned architect who designed the new San Georgio bridge — confirmed to Dailyrater that the past "15 months have been well spent".

He said the record time showed a real "will and determination".

Cost over quality

According to Milan — who has worked across the globe with other internationally renowned architects — other places in Europe, compared to Italy have "a more precise and punctual design phase, which defines the construction components well" followed by "a rigorous phase during which expenditure commitments are seriously estimated".

"Many works in Italy are not completed because we underestimate the real spending commitments," he stressed.

For instance, the engineer continued, public tenders from municipalities to build schools request the cost does not exceed €800 to €900 per square metre, "when you can't do it well for less than €2,500."

This leads to "paradoxical situations with abandoned construction sites and businesses that fail", Miland deplored.

For him, the issue lies in the fact that the business is now lead by "general contractors".

"They look at operating margins, costs and revenues, applying the financial method. Some of them have one technician, but perhaps 10 people working in the legal department, in administration or communication.

"Our security cannot be in the hands of general contractors. We must take a step back and re-evaluate the great professional heritage we have: we are a country of builders, bricklayers and carpenters," he went on.

'A cumbersome and dispersive system"

Despite standardised procedures at the European levels, it takes longer to get a project off the ground in Italy because the appeal system for public tenders is lengthier, Milan said.

The project for a "Health City" in Sesto San Giovanni, a commune in the metropolitan city of Milan, "started in 2013 but due to the appeals, the work may just begin now," he added.

"Seven years are too many, our system is cumbersome and dispersive," he continued, flagging that the selection board for a project his studio submitted for a year ago has yet to meet.

A positive note though is that once the project is approved and the construction company has been selected, work goes fast.

The San Giorgio bridge has 18 support pylons, which usually require two months each to be built, but to speed things along, work was carried out 24/7 by some 1,000 workers.

By comparison, the Millay motorway viaduct in France — which at one kilometre is double the length of the new bridge in Genoa — was built in three years after a three-year tender process.

In Tbilisi, Georgia, the Peace Bridge, was finished in 10 months when 12 were originally scheduled.

"We are certainly not the worst in the world, from this point of view. Even in Germany, the king of reconstruction after the collapse of the Wall, there are situations similar to ours. Think of the new Berlin airport, which was to be finished in 2012 and it is not yet open," Milan told Dailyrater.

'Impossible to apply these times to all works'

Settimo Martinello, director of 4Emme, which manages the We Bridge - Ispezioniponti.it portal, specialising in monitoring 50,000 bridges across Italy, told Dailyrater that "when you give power to someone, things are done faster".

"Maybe the work will cost 20-30 per cent more — if you do things properly — but it will take less time. Instead, it can regularly take between five to 10 years. The work supposedly costs less but when it takes that long, it has a huge cost for society," he added.

Reducing the bureaucracy, however, is not necessarily the right option.

"Bureaucracy means checking that the companies that participate are not infiltrated by the Mafia, that staff are paid, that all security obligations are observed ... Eliminating it would mean eliminating security," Martinello argued.

The fast turnaround for the new Genoan bridge is partly attributed to the fact that the companies who lost out on the contract did not appeal, Milan pointed out, describing it as "an ethical momentum of great stature".

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