Red alarm for bridges and viaducts, oversize loads KO
Infrastructures and transport
After the tragic collapse of Annone (Lecco), authorizations are currently being delayed by unbelievably burdensome bureaucratic procedures. It all stems from the issue of using - legally - 108-ton mega-trucks for steel-coil haulage.
There is a hidden yet urgent issue, in the Italian infrastructural scene, that needs to be addressed for the safety of road users. We are specifically referring to oversize transport especially after that terrible 28th October 2016, when an overpass collapsed near Annone (Lecco) on the SS 36 highway, highlighting the actual fragility of bridges, viaducts and other Italian road works. Authorities are now trying hard to patch up things, although this means blocking the circulation of trucks weighing over 44 tons, and in some cases taking even more drastic measures. But let’s start from the beginning.
In reality this situation has been dragging on since the beginning of the early 2000s, when the abuse of the abnormal loads status for goods that were not abnormal at all, such as steel coils produced by our industries, became evident.
At that point some began wondering if the fundamental condition for using exceptional transport vehicles was the weight of a "single item" or a "single load". Two circular letters from the Ministry of Transport, number 189 dated September 6, 2005 and 299 dated February 22, 2006, clarified what was basically already clear: according to Article 10 of the Highway Code, it’s the single “item” that determines whether the 44 tons limit has been passed, which would make abnormal transport procedures necessary, and not the single load. Only in the presence of such an item then, can other goods be loaded until the maximum weight allowed is reached.
However, soon after that, a transport company based in Suello (Lecco), presented an appeal to the TAR (Regional Administrative Court), which immediately granted a suspension that "froze" the two circular letters, without a final ruling: hence, the practice of transporting steel coils with exceptional vehicles - regardless of the presence of a single "abnormal item” – took-off, especially in areas with a high concentration of steel companies, such as Brianza Lecchese. On July 1, 2013 the reigning uncertainty finally ended in a complete debacle: a new decree from the Ministry of Transport, in fact, authorizes the transport of coils of any size albeit with vehicles suitable for oversized transport, thus subjecting the entire national road network to an unspeakable stress, with bridges and viaducts, built in the '70s, able to bear, at the most, half of that weight. Meanwhile the higher loads meant fewer trips and a significant cost reduction for many companies and their clients: in other words a win-win situation.
The Annone accident was precisely the result of this situation: the transit of a 108-ton semi-trailer loaded with steel coils over a viaduct. Soon after, the reaction of the president of Fai Conftrasporto, who had denounced this situation for years, came as expected: "Ten years without a definite answer, ten years during which who knows how many other abnormal loads have run the risk of devastating other infrastructures in poor conditions, simply because of being “warn-out” by the almost unbearable weight of certain loads. Now the point is, are we going to have to wait months, maybe years, or at least until someone is crushed under a collapsed bridge before a judge or some politician will finally decide to do something about it?
Defence and counterattack
Considering the situation, the state replied by putting up a stern defence against all sorts of abnormal loads. The 150 entities entrusted with supplying the necessary permits have, in other words, been taking their sweet time so as not to take responsibility, in case another viaduct should collapse. A regular phenomenon in the Lombardy region. Here, according to a Regional Law number 6/2012, the responsibility to issue transit permits on provincial and regional roads falls to each individual province, which have the authority to issue permits not only in their own territory, but also in neighbouring provinces. In other words, if for example a road transport company based in Mantua has to carry an abnormal load from Mantua to Varese, it will be sufficient to ask the province of Mantua, which will then authorize the transport on a specific route through the provinces of Brescia, Bergamo, Monza-Brianza, Milan and Varese. Too bad, though, that the Lombardy Region, in delegating the exercise of this function to the Provinces has failed to provide them with specific guidelines, such as a complete mapping of the entire regional road network with the maximum payloads allowed on each road. Result, the individual provinces are unwilling to take responsibility for infrastructure in neighbouring provinces, hence the necessary permits are now granted a little at a time and sometimes after months of waiting. So far, very little good has come from the application of the Directive no. 293 dated 15 June 2017 (but published only at the end of July) issued by the Ministry of Transport, which imposes on all authorizing bodies the creation and publication of a "Road Register" indicating all the "travelling characteristics", specifically in relation to "works of art", ie bridges and viaducts, in order to speed up authorizations. “ However, to date there is no trace of the Road Registry", says the national president of CNA-Fita Patrizio Ricci. We have now arrived at a real paradox: the provinces are looking for costly advice from “private” road transport companies on the supposed payloads of the viaducts they intend to travel on! Not to mention that the transport companies themselves are forced to urge the municipalities to send the relevant authorizations to the provinces.
The Po “war bulletin”
However, the alarm on the current state of the infrastructures, has also led to a number of roads being closed and heavy restrictions. On the Po river, for example, in the province of Pavia, the Becca bridge is limited to 3.5 tons; in Bressana, the bridge is off-limits for abnormal loads and there is a ban on all heavy vehicles transiting in the morning during school entry times, in addition the speed limit is of 60 km/h, controlled by an electronic speed monitoring system; in Castel San Giovanni (Piacenza) 10-ton vehicles are forbidden while at Casei Gerola 3.5 tons is the maximum allowed. In short, the only bridge guaranteeing free and easy access is at Arena Po, along the A7 motorway. A few months ago, in Casalmaggiore, the bridge was closed to traffic due to road works, which must be added to Castelvetro Piacentino limited to 7.5 tons as well as San Daniele Po, limited to 44 tons but the alternate one-way flow causes jams and not a few discomforts. The dramatic situation of the bridges on the Po river must be added to what is happening over the Ticino (with the historical floating bridge of Bereguardo obviously interdicted to anything heavier than 3.5 ton and one in Vigevano under construction) not to mention the disastrous situation on the river Adda. By Vaprio, transport vehicles can transit only from Milan in the direction of Bergamo, the opposite direction has recently been blocked by the Municipality of Cassano; Trezzo and Paderno are interdicted to 3.5 ton vehicles. There would be a new bridge under construction at Cassano d'Adda, but the works were blocked due to problems with the construction company. In Brescia, a high-density iron and steel industrial area, reports resemble a “war bulletin”: after Annone, on the south bypass of Brescia, in Manerbio, Concesio, Castegnato, basically all bridges and overpasses are strictly limited to 44 tons. Until a few months ago, the Emilia Romagna region was a unique case, the only region to have a single, transparent and online road register. But even here fearful provinces have, at times, had their way: Ferrara, for example, has prohibited the circulation to all heavy vehicles above 56 tons on its provincial roads.
Little safety, regulatory chaos and companies that are finding it very difficult to do their job: on Italian roads the Middle Ages are simply refusing to die.