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Sicilian work crews have begun construction on a highway underpass near the Mineo housing area at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily.

Work began Jan. 10 and should be completed by the end of July.

Mineo’s 404 housing units are 19 miles southwest of the Sigonella bases, just off highway SS-417, one of the main highways between Catania and the southern Sicilian coast.

ANAS, the Italian agency responsible for state roads and highways, started work Friday on creating a temporary side road while its crews work on the underpass.

Between early March and June, construction will force a change for drivers going to and from Mineo. Luciano Matarazzo, Sigonella’s Real Estate Division director, explained that the change should add about six minutes onto the normal drive time to base.

The province of Catania and ANAS are splitting construction costs.

Base officials hope the underpass will reduce the number of accidents between American vehicles and passing traffic.

“There have been some bad accidents, but luckily nobody’s killed,” said April Slater, base deputy director for safety.

Many of the accidents, she said, are caused by a combination of Americans not knowing or following traffic laws and other drivers passing illegally.

“It’s kind of crazy,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jose Alcala of the base supply department. “It’s an open road with traffic coming the other way and high-speed traffic behind you. Even if you stop, they try to sneak by you … when there’s little room to begin with.

“Everybody thinks it’s a good thing,” Alcala said. “There have been some accidents that were very bad-looking. I think the underpass will fix that.”

Slater said that, overall, accidents for Sigonella’s Americans are down over the past year. One reason, she said, was that personnel checking into the base are required to attend a driving safety course.

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