Amid pandemic, Italy sees hope in Genoa bridge completion

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Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte arrives in Milan, Italy, Monday, April 2020 for a meeting with local authorities. Italian factories, construction sites and wholesale supply businesses can resume activity as soon as they put safety measures into place aimed at containing contagion with COVID-19. This concession comes with partial easing of national lockdown restrictions announced Sunday night by Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP)

ROME – Nearly two years after a highway bridge in Genoa collapsed and killed 43 people, workers moved the final piece of a replacement span into place Tuesday in a milestone hailed by Italy’s premier as a symbolic show of unity and hope amid the coronavirus emergency.

As church bells tolled and fog horns blared, the central chunk of roadway was hoisted into position above now-abandoned homes and businesses lining the dry Polcevera riverbed. The installation of the final segment marked the completion of structural work to reunite two sides of Genoa, but the bridge's actual reopening is several months off.

Premier Giuseppe Conte made a rare outing from Rome to attend the ceremony, following stops Monday in Lombardy, the region hardest-hit by the virus pandemic. Wearing a hard hat and a neon construction vest over his suit, Conte said the completion of the bridge “sutures a wound, reconnecting a fundamental artery to the center and heart of this community and city.”

He said the new bridge also provides an image of Italian strength and ingenuity in the face of tragedy that can serve as a model as Italy struggles to emerge from the tragedy of the pandemic. Recalling the Genoa lighthouse, a symbol of the port city, Conte said Genoa today casts a light of hope on the whole country.

“Today, with this light from Genoa, we are giving a new face to all of Italy,” the premier said.

The replacement bridge is in the same area as the original Ponte Morandi, which was demolished after it collapsed on Aug. 14, 2018. The original bridge, named for the engineer who designed it, Riccardo Morandi, was built during the 1960s and became a key artery for Ligurian coastal communities and link from Italy to France.

Morandi warned a decade after the bridge opened that it would need continuous maintenance to remove rust given the effects of corrosion from sea air and pollution on the concrete. The span's collapse, with dozens of cars and trucks on it, was the most deadly in a series of bridge disasters in recent years and exposed the horrific state of Italy’s aging road infrastructure.

It subsequently emerged that authorities were aware the Ponte Morandi's concrete had corroded over time and that the bridge was structurally compromised. Criminal investigations were opened to ascertain blame.

Italian architect and Genoa native Renzo Piano was selected to design the replacement bridge. Construction work continued even after most Italian industry came to a halt last month to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Italy is the European epicenter of the pandemic and one of the world's worst-hit countries. The government has reported more than 26,000 virus-related deaths, half of them in the northern Lombardy region. Nearby Liguria, of which Genoa is the capital, has more than 7,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,000 dead.