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A long-awaited highway bypass around the Venetian suburb of Mestre opened this week, potentially unsnarling traffic in one of the most congested areas in Italy.

As a result, those driving from Aviano to much of the country should be able to avoid the stop-and-go traffic that often occurs on the A-4 autostrada that crosses the north of the country. And those heading from Vicenza to countries in Eastern Europe won’t have to plan on a potentially lengthy delay near the start of their trip.

Unfortunately, those driving from both U.S. bases to Venice now pay another 50 euro cents. And the toll for those using the new stretch of road to travel from one base to the other has risen to 8.10 euros each way.

The Italian government and the company that runs the autostrada spent 750 million euros on the project, according to official Web sites set up by project administrators. Construction on the 20-mile bypass started in February 2005 and is still going on. But Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi participated in a dedication ceremony last weekend and vehicles began using it shortly thereafter.

Most of those traveling to and from the Marco Polo International Airport outside Venice won’t be using the new route, but they’ll benefit from it. This week the new bypass has considerably reduced traffic on the stretch of the A-4 that still travels through Mestre. The cost of driving from Aviano to Mestre — and the airport — has risen to 4.40 euros. And it now costs 4.20 from Vicenza to Mestre.

The bypass, which arcs to the north of Mestre, features a series of tunnels and sections built below ground level. About half of it consists of three lanes in each direction. The eastern section is two lanes each way and is still undergoing some work.

The bypass currently doesn’t contain any tollbooths, so those traveling between Aviano and Vicenza only have to pay one time, versus twice on the former route.

The Mestre area has been a traffic concern for the Italian government for years. The A-27 autostrada connects with the A-4 in the stretch, which saw an average of 170,000 vehicles a day. Many of those are trucks that come from as far as Russia and use the route because it’s the largest highway south of the Alps. Some deliver cargo to the port of Mestre and lines often form for miles in the slowest lane, leaving only one lane for the rest of the traffic in some stretches.

According to the Web site, the bypass is one in a series of projects designed to speed up travel in a route from Barcelona, Spain, to Kiev, Ukraine.

Valentina Lehman provided translation for this report.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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