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06/09/2016
Curtain raised on the Quadrilatero Umbria-Marche

Infrastructure

All is ready for the opening of the new highway that will connect Foligno to Civitanova Marche, blocked last year after shock revelations about the state of the tunnels. Following this, the new Perugia-Ancona

Fabio Quinto

Something’s happening. After the Variante di Valico, the Tem, the Brebemi and part of the Pedemontana in Lombardy, one of the most anticipated Italian road projects finally opens to traffic: the Quadrilatero Umbria-Marche, or rather one of the two highways, connecting Foligno to Civitanova Marche. A two-lane highway in each direction forming a new link between the two sides of the Apennines. Marche’s manufacturing districts on one side, Umbria and Tuscany on the other, not to mention the traffic flow between Lazio and the Adriatic sea. Finally, the 1.1 billion euro project has reached its completion, with a new 34 km road, 60% of which in tunnels, the longest being the Varano tunnel, with its 3,4 km near Serravalle del Chienti. Moreover, considering the delicate environment, such as the Colfiorito plateau, rich in history and natural beauty (the marsh), the geological interest (the epicenter of a strong earthquake in 1997) and economic framework (a highly agricultural area, from lentils to red potatoes) the achievement is noteworthy indeed.

 

The recession and Regional Planning

The 54 km stretch from Civitanova Marche to Sfercia (Macerata), was actually already completed between the late '70s and early' 90s. Since then, however, the project was “frozen” for 15 years. Only in 2009 the Sfercia-Pontelatrave section was opened and work on the more complex section of the project, through the Apennines, was resumed. The opening date was initially scheduled for 2013, but a number of technical and bureaucratic obstacles as well as a series of other events caused substantial delays. A rather ambitious project: building a free highway, attracting investments through Regional Planning. The idea first started going around between 2005 and 2007, that is to say, ages ago, before the great recession we have all been suffering from. The basic idea was: a joint stock company, Quadrilatero spa (whose joint stock was initially shared between Anas 75,5%, the Marche Region with 10%, Umbria 7%, the province of Macerata 5% and the Macerata Chamber of Commerce with 2,5%) was supposed to plan and build a series of manufacturing districts able to attract business investments to the area – including hotels, supermarkets and outlets – thanks to a greater structural accessibility.  These were then supposed to pay, for thirty years, taxes and tributes back into the coffers of the Quadrilatero. A financing mechanism that has so far not produced the expected results, but Quadrilatero spa did not give up: in 2014 a new advisor was identified along with more favorable conditions for private investment. Meanwhile, the highway was built with public funds, and last year Quadrilatero spa was fully absorbed by Anas.

 

“Mind the gaps”

In short, despite difficulties all was ready, in 2015, for the opening of the entire Foligno-Civitanova route, after the first 9 km between Colfiorito and Serravalle di Chienti was already inaugurated at the end of 2014. Then came the shocking news: in April 2015, during the television program Report, a site worker let the cat out of the bag. The tunnels throughout the entire route, and especially the La Franca tunnel (near Foligno), were built with less cement than what was required, "10 cm instead of 40", leaving dangerous "gaps" in the tunnel’s vaults, and in a  high seismic zone at that: "I advised my sons not to pass through here but to carry on using the old route", he said. This story, along with the viaduct collapsed in Sicily, forced the government to dismiss ANAS president Pietro Ciucci, and appoint a new president, Gianni Vittorio Armani. In the meantime, the Foligno-Civitanova stretch was "frozen" as a precaution, and all the tunnels (remember, 60% of the route), had to be inspected. Checks went on for months, and the results were rather reassuring, though not completely. In parts of the La Franca tunnel (about 1 km long), the thickness of the structure was insufficient and 3% required urgent interventions with steel reinforcements to prevent the tunnel from collapsing. No trace, however, of the “gaps” or voids in the vault of the tunnel. Once the inspections were finally completed, the countdown to the inauguration of the new route restarted. The target is rather simple and practical: cutting down travelling time between Foligno and the Adriatic Sea from 120 to about 60 minutes.

 

Legal controversies

Now all we need to do is wait for the completion of the other part of the Quadrilatero, which will connect Perugia to Ancona. Here the issues have been of a different nature: first, the contractor’s judicial vicissitudes, after being involved in investigation on gangs targeting infrastructure projects; then, in 2013, the corporate company that replaced it, Impresa SpA, entered into an arrangement with creditors. All this before Astaldi entered on the scene and resumed construction, with the end of the works planned for 2017 and the Pianello-Casacastalda section could see the light before the end of the year.

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