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03/11/2011
FULL STEAM AHEAD, BREBEMI!

INFRASTRUCTURES

The new Milan-Bescia motorway is essential for Lombardy. We visited the road works, which are making fast progress. But what about the related works such as Tem, Cassanese and Rivoltana

Fabio Quinto

It is the manufacturing heart of Italy. It has one of the highest vehicle densities in Europe (even though it is in line with the Italian average: 587 cars for every one thousand inhabitants. And yet its infrastructures, and its motorways in particular, are inferior to those in other Italian regions. This is Lombardy, where there are 0.6 km of motorway for every 10,000 inhabitants compared to 1.9 in Piedmont and 1.3 in Emilia-Romagna. Sicily does better with 1.3 km of motorway for every 10,000 inhabitants. The consequences for the levels of congestion on Lombardy's motorways are well-known: tailbacks, accidents, pollution. And yet something moves. The following is a look at the Milan-Brescia axis, where the new Brebemi motorway is under construction.
Let's begin with the current situation. In other words, with what happens every day between these two cities in Lombardy. According to the latest Aiscat data, every day an average of 286,266 vehicles, 63,522 of which are trucks, travel on the A4 between Milan and Brescia. A record: it is the busiest stretch of motorway in Italy, even busier than the Milan-Lakes and the area north of the city (where the Pedemontana is under construction, but that's another story). Another record is the concentration of heavy vehicles, second only to another stretch of the A4 between Brescia and Padua (70,260). If the traffic is to flow better, the A4's three lanes are not enough: so, some years ago now, a fourth lane was added to the Milan-Bergamo stretch. We've seen the results. According to Autostrade per l'Italia, one year after the fourth lane was opened the "total time lost" (that is, the difference between the actual and the theoretical average time) has been reduced by 84.5%. The number of "traffic jams" has dropped from 29 to 6, a difference of 79.3%; the accident rate has decreased by 45.55%. Carbon monoxide emissions have been reduced by 35%, nitrogen oxide by 13% and particulates by 22%.
And yet it is not enough. As everyone who takes that artery every day knows: the smallest hitch generates a tailback, which is also due to the huge number of trucks that are "forced" to use the motorway because of "no entries" and one-way streets that prevent heavy vehicles from crossing the River Adda. There is a more direct route between Milan and Brescia that doesn't go through Bergamo: the one that crosses the territories of Treviglio and Caravaggio. 77 km instead of 103. But it is also an area that needs more modern infrastructures, as testified to by the heavy traffic on the Rivoltana and Cassanese provincial roads and the SS 11 Padana Superiore. This alone would be enough to indicate the usefulness of the new motorway.
So, let's start: the gestation period of the new infrastructure lasted "only" ten years. After the first project of 1998, the work began in July 2009. The total cost is 2.4 billion euros, all from private sources: the work is, in fact, a project financing. In other words, the money comes from Brebemi S.p.A., shares in which are held by Intesa Sanpaolo (39.7% of Autostrade Lombarde, which in its turns holds 89% of Brebemi), Autostrade Centropadane (12.8%), Autostrada Brescia-Padova (12.8%), Milano-Serravalle (7.3%), Sias (Gavio Group, 6.9%), and from various Municipalities, Provinces and Chambers of Commerce in the territory. The tolls will repay the cost of the motorway and generate a profit: from Brescia to Milan, a car will cost 6.25 euros instead of the current 6.40 for the A4 (but the latter is longer).
So, we were saying that the work had begun. But how far has it gone? Brebemi S.p.A. says that "it's halfway". In other words, "it will be opened to traffic as planned at the start of 2013". Also: "If we roll up our sleeves and if the work on the east ring road outside Milan (Tem) also moves along once it has started, then we could finish even earlier", which means that the Brebemi could welcome its first cars already by the end of 2012. On the financial side, too, it seems to be smooth sailing for Brebemi, given that last July its chairman, Francesco Bettoni, announced "the finalization of the agreement with the banks for funding of 1.9 billion euros". A picture that looks perfect, but in effect has a few flaws. On the Milan side, the Brebemi has to link up with other works that haven't started yet: beginning with the Tem that will link Melegnano and Agrate Brianza. The works should have begun at the end of 2010, but everything has been slowed down by a series of bureaucratic delays and some project changes regarding railway crossings. The final approval of the project by Cipe (a government body) is expected soon: according to a statement by Fabio Terragni, chairman of Tangenziale Esterna S.p.A., "the work could begin at the end of 2011 and the road could be opened to traffic in 2015, in time for Expo". Memorize this date: 2015. If the work on the Brebemi is completed in 2013 (or even sooner), there is the risk that - for at least two years - the new motorway will end in the middle of the farms and countryside that surround the River Adda. "However" - Bettoni points out - "when the work on the Tem begins, priority will be given to the ‘arco Tem', that part of the ring road that links the Brebemi to the new Cassanese and Rivoltana motorways and which will be opened to traffic by the start of 2013". So, the links with the Tem appear to be assured. As is the four-lane upgrade (genuine clearways) of the Cassanese and Rivoltana provincial roads. As stated by Bettoni "the tenders have been closed and the work is expected to begin any day now". Converting these two provincial roads into clearways is essential for the new motorway. The Cassanese and Rivoltana lead to Milan's east ring road, and the Linate (the Rivoltana) and Lambrate (the Cassanese) junctions. But it's the Lambrate junction, the subject of interminable work and the source of equally interminable tailbacks on the east ring road, that should make everyone cautious. According to the Lombardy councillor for Infrastructures, Raffaele Cattaneo, "we now need to make some changes to the project that will slow down the work". The reason? Simple. When an underpass was being built, they discovered an aquifer that had so much water that the entire worksite was submerged. "The Segrate river", they now call it, at the precise point where the Brebemi will end.

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