As Genoa Inaugurates New Bridge, the Feeling Is Bittersweet
GENOA, Italy — Since the dramatic and deadly collapse of the Morandi bridge over the Italian port of Genoa two years ago, builders have worked around the clock, through a judicial investigation and the coronavirus pandemic, so a new bridge could open on time.
Designed by a native son of the city, the architect Renzo Piano, and built in a record 15 months, the new Genoa San Giorgio bridge, whose inauguration is Monday, has become a matter of pride for Genoa and all of Italy, a symbol of their can-do spirit.
Yet residents and business owners say the accomplishment will hardly cure the pains of the city, which was shrinking — economically, demographically and culturally — even before the collapse, which killed 43 people on Aug. 14, 2018.
The loss of one of the city’s main arteries and its fastest east-west connection compounded all those problems, devastating businesses and paralyzing life. Today many in Genoa are still suffering and lament that the new bridge will not be enough to overcome the absence of a broad, long-term vision to revive their city.
Though the government and the company that manages the bridge, Autostrade per l’Italia, or Highways for Italy, gave aid to dozens of businesses in the area to help them stay afloat, many had to relocate or remained cut off from the rest of Genoa.
“I lost 50 percent of my business with the collapse; my patients who lived across the bridge could no longer get here,” said Dr. Fabio Bertoldi, a veterinarian whose office is about 300 yards north of the bridge.
“Now I even bike to work,” said Dr. Bertoldi, who lives about 15 miles away. If he drove, he added, “It would take me three hours to get here with the construction on the highway.”
A surge of long-overdue infrastructure work has further snarled traffic. For many of those who live in Genoa, then, the opening of the new bridge is at best bittersweet.
“We are glad for the new bridge, built so fast, and the maintenance on the highways, but it all also leaves us a bitter feeling,” said Egle Possetti, spokeswoman for a committee commemorating the victims’ families. “Had they done it before, our relatives might have been alive.” Ms. Possetti’s sister, brother-in-law, young nephew and niece were killed when the bridge fell.
Genoa’s unique location — wedged between mountains and sea in Italy’s northeast — makes it hard to reach and even harder to navigate. It takes five hours to reach Genoa by fast train from Rome, almost twice the time it takes to go from Rome to Milan, which is only about 40 miles farther north.
As high-speed trains near the port city, they must switch to older, slower two-way tracks, which are often flooded by the region’s violent thunderstorms.
In recent months, dozens of new maintenance sites have forced officials to limit road traffic. Drivers endure traffic jams, accompanied by the metallic sound of drilling, that wind along the city’s picturesque highways, an overlapping series of viaducts with stunning sea views.
After the vault of a tunnel northwest of Genoa partly collapsed last year, Italy’s Transportation Ministry ordered a thorough inspection of the region’s overpasses and bridges. Nearly all had safety problems and had to be repaired.
“We are prioritizing security,” Placido Migliorino, the engineer in charge of highway inspections at the ministry, said in a phone interview.
In the past four months, Mr. Migliorino has traveled weekly to Genoa to monitor the progress of the maintenance work.
“About 50 of the galleries are around Genoa, and in some the problems couldn’t be fixed overnight,” Mr. Migliorino said, referring to the area’s tunnels. “That’s why cars and trucks have limited circulation.”
Mr. Migliorino has also been examining viaducts and says they, too, have been poorly maintained.
Emanuele Piccardo, an architecture critic, said, “For a country that tends to work in emergency mode, constant maintenance is difficult, from the local to the national level.”
“You can build the long bypass, or a new bridge,” said Mr. Piccardo, the curator of “The Collapse of Modernity,” an upcoming book on the consequences of the Morandi disaster. “But if you don’t rethink mobility in this narrow valley to make it based on rails instead of wheels, it’s a waste of time.”
Even with the new bridge’s opening, Mr. Piccardo expects the outlying Polcevera River valley to remain greatly disconnected from the city center because of the heavy traffic.
“Building a bridge is an opportunity, but the valley won’t improve just because of this new infrastructure,” he said.
The valley’s Certosa district, just north of the Morandi viaduct, was among the hardest hit by the bridge collapse. These days, its residents mingle in the mornings under trees in the cobblestone piazzas. By midday, the streets are almost empty as the elderly go indoors to nap.
The area, once home to the working class of Genoa’s industrial port, is an urban sprawl divided by the river that the viaduct crossed. Large department stores and industries line one bank of the river, the port’s containers and residential neighborhoods the other.
Certosa residents say that the new bridge will hardly bring them any closer to the city center. Even Marco Bucci, Genoa’s mayor, admitted after the tragedy that he had never been to the district before.
Residents do not expect the area to be reshaped much, despite a subway stop and the introduction of a park with a memorial for the victims of the bridge collapse, designed by the famed Italian architect Stefano Boeri.
“I don’t blame anyone,” said Paolo Lecca, 68, a retiree, as he looked at the new bridge’s huge working site, where his friends used to live. “But we don’t even have a hospital here. We need to get to Genoa.”
Christian Giannini, 48, who owns a bike store in Certosa, said: “This new bridge is beautiful. I just hope they make what is underneath nice, too.”
Mr. Giannini signed his shop’s lease four days before the Morandi viaduct collapsed. His store overlooks the large boulevard that ran under it, which was closed for eight months. Children once played soccer where cars are now parked.
“It was somewhat charming,” he smiled. “It reminded me of my childhood when we drove here to buy the best clothes in town.”
While some businesses relocated during the reconstruction, others closed for good.
“I open my store every day, but if people leave here, how are we supposed to make business?” asked Marianna Correnti, 61, the owner of a flower shop in the Certosa district. “I had many clients in the apartment buildings that were demolished, and of course they are gone.”
Gian Battista Cassano owns a large scrap center under the bridge and to the west. His cameras recorded the Morandi falling, and he was among those to relocate. Mr. Cassano’s company navigated the red tape to move to a space half as large, and to install solar panels there. But it struggled to pay bills and salaries.
“We were left alone,” he said.
Because of the congestion, some Polcevera Valley residents don’t drive anymore.
“People need to wake up at night to travel with no traffic,” said Teresa Altovino, 49, a health worker shopping at the local market in Certosa. “I even stopped going to the beach.”
Ms. Altovino, who was working in the area when the bridge collapsed, said she walked out of the building that day to see what had happened. She can still hear the people screaming that morning two years ago.
“The new bridge looks solid, but I won’t take it,” she said. “I am too scared.”