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Article Italy: New Law on Construction of World's Longest Suspension Bridge Enters into Effect

On April 1, 2023, Decree-Law No. 35 of March 31, 2023, containing Urgent Provisions for Creating an Enduring Link [Bridge] between Sicily and Calabria (D.L. No. 35), entered into effect in Italy.

General Context

Italy has reportedly dreamed of uniting Sicily with the mainland by a bridge since Roman times. In 252 B.C., Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus put together a “moving bridge” made of barrels and wood across the Straits of Messina to transport war elephants from Carthage to Rome. In 2006, the government granted a concession to a consortium led by the Italian firm Salini Impregilo, now called WeBuild, to build the bridge, but the plans were shelved shortly after for political reasons.

The prospective bridge envisioned under the new law would be 3.2 kilometers (about 2 miles) long, which would make it the world’s longest suspension bridge, and would cost about 15 billion euros (about US$16.4 billion). The executive project is to be approved by July 31, 2024, with a tentative construction time of five years. The project will face multiple challenges stemming from financial and planning issues, as well as from issues related to transparency, the geography and geomorphology of the area, and environmental and political concerns.

Changes to the Stretto di Messina S.p.A. to Facilitate Implementation of the Project

The new law tasks the Stretto di Messina S.p.A. (Strait of Messina S.p.A.) concessionary company with designing, building, and managing the Messina Strait Bridge. The company was established in 1981 in accordance with Law No. 1158 of 1971, and belonged to the ANAS Group from 2007 until D.L. No. 35 entered into effect, as will be explained below. In 2013, the company was placed in liquidation in accordance with Law No. 221 of 2012. Until D.L. No. 35 was adopted, the shareholding of the company was structured as follows: (a) ANAS S.p.A. (81.848%), (b) Rete Ferroviaria Italiana S.p.A. (13%), (c) Regione Calabria (2.576%), and (d) Regione Siciliana (2.576%).

Rehabilitation and Restructuring of Strait of Messina S.p.A.

In accordance with Law No. 197 of 2022, and effective April 1, 2023, the liquidation of Stretto di Messina S.p.A. was revoked. (D.L. No. 35, art. 2(1).) As a result, the company is legally active. In turn, D.L. No. 35 authorized ANAS S.p.A. to transfer to the Ministry of the Economy and Finance a portion of its shareholding in the company, free of any encumbrances, and to consequently subscribe capital increases to strengthen its shareholding in the company. (Art. 2(4).) The ministry is also authorized entering into agreements with the company concerning: (a) the duration of the project; (b) the timetable relating to the project’s construction; (c) the new economic and financial plan for the project; (d) the financial coverage of the investment; (e) the expected total revenues and toll rates for crossing the bridge and the rail connection — which are to be determined on the basis of an updated traffic study and according to criteria suitable for promoting territorial continuity between Sicily and Calabria so that the project remains financially sustainable; (f) the fees for the use of the railway infrastructure to be built by the company; (g) the costs incurred by the company up to the date of entry into force of D.L. No. 35 for services rendered since 2006; and (h) the overall cost of the project, itemized. (Art. 2(8).)

Capital Structure

D.L. No. 35 amends Law No. 1158 of 1971 concerning the company’s capital structure to provide that shareholding will now include R.F.I. S.p.A., ANAS S.p.A., the Regions of Sicily and Calabria, and the Ministry of the Economy and Finance — the latter participating with a minimum 51% of the total shareholding. (Art. 1(a)(1).) Thus, the new legislation gives the Italian government controlling power over the technical and operational supervision of the company. (Art. 1(a)(1).)

Board of Directors

The board of directors will now be composed of five members: two appointed by the Ministry of Economy and Finance to serve as president and delegated administrator of the company; one member appointed by the Region of Calabria and one by the Region of Sicily; and a member designated jointly by R.F.I. S.p.A. and ANAS S.p.A. (Art. 1(2)(b)(1).)

The company bylaws must provide that at least 80% of the company’s income must come from the tasks entrusted to it by public entities that own shareholding in it. (Art. 1(2)(d)(2).)

Special Commissioner and Scientific Committee

A special commissioner is to be appointed by the president of the Council of Ministers at the proposal of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation. (Art. 1(2)(d)(5).) The same ministry is to appoint a Scientific Committee, whose functions are to provide technical consulting advice to the company’s board of directors concerning the supervision and direction of technical design activities and the feasibility of the final project. (Art. 1(2)(e).)

Design of the Project

Per D.L. No. 35, the definitive project, which was drawn up in accordance with Legislative Decree No. 190 of August 20, 2002 and approved by the company’s board of directors on July 29, 2011, is to be supplemented by a new report that must particularly address environmental, geological, and geographical concerns. (Art. 3(2).)

Dante Figueroa, Law Library of Congress
May 16, 2023

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