Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bridge Under Construction

It is utterly amazing that Italy is one of the largest economies in the world, considering its prolonged ineffectiveness. It has 3.19 votes in the IMF (compared to 6.02 for Japan, 4.86 for France, 5.88 for Germany, 2.89 for Canada, 1.43 for Mexico, 1.38 for Brazil, 1.89 for India, 3.66 for China, 4.86 for the UK, and 16.77 for the US). In an OECD spreadsheet it is shown as 6th in GDP size. So, by different measures, it is a major country.

But then there are items that give lie to such measures. Consider the bridge from the Sicilian city of Messina to the Calabria region on the toe of Italy's boot; it has been under consideration for 143 years. Yes, in 1865, the government began preparing to build a two-mile span. It is an issue in the current election. Yikes! Makes US politics seem downright serious and mature.

With a price of nearly €5 billion, or about $7.9 billion, the bridge is an example of profligate public spending, many say. Italy is littered with half-finished projects. Work is still being done on the highway running between Naples and the southern city of Reggio di Calabria decades after it was first begun.

That is 308 miles. Seems preposterous; yet, it gets better (or, worse).

In Messina, plans to create a duty-free port were drawn up in 1951. The tax-exempt port was never realized. But the company to manage it was -- and still exists, with four employees and a 14-member board of directors.

57 years later, no port, but a company with 14 directors, yes.

Yet those who support linking Sicily to the mainland say the project has been a relative bargain. In more than 20 years of operation, the company created to build the bridge, Straits of Messina SpA, has spent just $235 million. Company officials say that's a trifle considering the ambition of the project. To be sure, nothing at all has been built with that money.

Since only 235 million have been spent, and as it might have been much more, that is called a bargain. What logic.

Environmentalists are steadfastly opposed. So are ferry operators who fear the bridge would put them out of work. Others think the project risks being a boon to Sicily's organized crime. "Risk? It's not a risk. It's a sure thing," says Luigi Croce, the chief prosecutor of Messina. Several years ago, Mr. Croce conducted a study concluding that if the bridge were built, the Mafia would control everything from local road work to the catering contracts for construction workers.

Will it ever be built? "Ulysses was warned about the dangers of this place," Mr. Calarco says.

No comments:

Post a Comment