A bridge linking Sicily with the Italian mainland is one step closer to reality after the European Parliament recently decided that the project qualifies for European Union funding.

But residents who want to drive off the island shouldn’t start planning a trip anytime soon. The bridge isn’t expected to be finished until at least 2012.

The Italian government recently started soliciting bids for construction, which should begin sometime next year. It’s expected to cost about 5.6 million euros, about 10 percent of which will come from the EU.

The bridge will cross the Messina straits where Sicily comes closest to the Calabrian mainland. At just more than two miles long, the suspension bridge will be held up by quarter-mile-high towers, more than 200 feet above the strait.

It is expected to carry two six-lane roads and four sets of railroad tracks capable of taking high-speed passenger trains. Currently, all traffic across the straits goes by ferry.

Raffaele Lombardo, president of Catania province and a member of the EU Parliament, was quoted by Agenzia Giornalistica Italia as saying “the bridge is the ‘mother of all infrastructures’ that we need to complete in our region, such as high-speed railway lines, terminal ports for fast ferries and, for the future, a major intercontinental airport.”

Naval Air Station Sigonella is in Catania province and is home to about 8,000 U.S. military personnel, Department of Defense civilians and family members.

Other U.S. military forces might eventually call Sicily home. The U.S. European Command sent a 10-member team to visit a former NATO cruise missile base in the southern Sicilian town of Comiso on Feb. 22-29 to determine its feasibility for the possible future relocation of U.S. forces from other European bases.

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