It may take a few years, but Americans in Italy will see some big changes to the country’s road and rail network.
Several of the larger road projects under consideration are near American military communities, and upgrades to the rail system will shave time off trips across the country.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made improving infrastructure a key part of his platform during his last election campaign. In 2004, Italy will invest about 100 billion euro to begin a series of projects that will be completed between 2007 and 2010, said Pietro Lunardi, the country’s minister of public works.
About 100 projects are under study and must be approved in the next six months under Italian law.
Aviano and Vicenza will benefit from a few of these road projects.
The most noticeable will be the addition of traffic lanes through the Venice suburb of Mestre, and lanes will be added on the series of highways connecting Venice and Rome and pass through Florence.
Venice and Florence are two critical points, Lunardi said, so they are considered priorities.
He said there are plans to double the lanes on the A4 highway through Mestre, where traffic sometimes comes to a standstill. The highway currently has two lanes in each direction. Plans also call for a tunnel to be built that will serve as a bypass for at least one direction of traffic.
“The constructions, however, are not on the principle stretch in use and there will not be any worsening of the present situation,” Lunardi said.
Work on expanding the mountainous and curvy stretches of freeway between Bologna and Florence is already under way.
Work on the A28 autostrada that connects communities around Aviano Air Base with the A4 — the main highway from Milan to Venice — isn’t seen as a top priority, Lunardi said, because of relatively low traffic flow. The highway stops just on the other side of Sacile and has been that way for years.
When the highway is extended to Conegliano, it would make the trip to Venice and virtually the rest of Italy quicker and easier for many at Aviano. Lunardi said work on the A28 should be completed around 2010. Once the stretch is finished, motorists will be required to pay tolls as they do on most stretches of Italian highways.
The most ambitious project, one that has been discussed for decades, is building a bridge to connect Sicily to the mainland. Lunardi, whose ministry is also responsible for transportation issues, said bidding for the project is supposed to take place this year. Construction would take years, but once completed, the bridge would make traveling between Navy bases in Sigonella and Naples easier. Presently, cars board a ferry to cross the strait separating Sicily’s city of Messina from the mainland.
The bridge will also incorporate an extension of a high-speed rail line connecting Palermo, Sicily, to Milan, with stops at major destinations such as Naples and Rome. Lunardi said work is already under way on similar tracks designed to carry higher-speed trains and more traffic between Venice and Padua. Similar stretches have been completed between the northern cities of Turin and Milan.
— Stars and Stripes employee Karl Braun provided translation for this article.