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Motorway network

Deserted lanes and figures in red. The long-awaited motorway is deserted by motorists and truck drivers because too expensive, poorly signaled and, most of all, badly connected with the rest of the network

Massimo Lanari

Finally. After years of waiting, on July 23, the Brebemi (A35) motorway, the new Milano-Brescia was inaugurated. Four months later, however, the budget of the new infrastructure is far from flattering. Those who have driven on it know that: the Brebemi is a long and deserted tarmac ribbon. Some kids have even posted a video on YouTube in which they improvise a football match between the empty lanes. The video was defined a fake by Brebemi spa, according to which it would have been shot when the highway was still under construction. But, fake or not, the video just gives the idea.

It should be said that the objectives of this project were more than commendable: to connect Milan to Brescia; serve a territory including Treviglio, Caravaggio and Melzo, without a motorway; and, especially, decongest the A4 between Milan and Brescia, the busiest motorway in Italy with its 270 thousand vehicles per day, including 55 thousand trucks. Everyone, in recent years, has called for the construction of the Brebemi motorway: politicians, businessmen, motorists and truck drivers. And what do we have? A desert. There are no official numbers on traffic, but some estimates disclosed by Legambiente ( League for the environment ) speak of just 16 thousand vehicles per day: we are well below the levels of motorways crossing much less populated and dynamic areas, like the Messina-Palermo, the Rome-Aquila-Teramo and Torano-Pescara. And we are light years away from the A4 levels, but also from the company's initial outlook, as the Brebemi president Francesco Bettoni spoke, in 2012, of 40 thousand vehicles per day. On opening day, however, the company had drastically revised downwards its forecast and experts now say they expect a flow of 20 thousand vehicles per day. However we look at it, it’s a real Waterloo. Why? What’s happening to the A35?

To answer we must primarily consider two factors: the infrastructural context and costs.



The context                                                                                  

First, the network of roads and motorways that revolve around the Brebemi A35 is still incomplete. So far the 62.1 km of the actual Brebemi motorway, three lanes in each direction, have been opened to traffic between Melzo (MI) and Chiari (BS); the portion of the Milan Outer Ring Road East (the so-called Arco Tem) between Melzo and Liscate, for a length of 7 km, these also three-lane in both directions; and the new Rivoltana has been transformed into a two-lane highway in each direction, 12 km from Liscate to Novegro, near Milan. In September, also the new Cassanese, now turned into a highway, will be opened to traffic, between Pozzuolo and Pioltello, always outside Milan. But what are still missing are the part of the outer ring road that will join the A1 at Melegnano to the A4 at Agrate Brianza. Work is in progress and the opening to traffic is scheduled for the spring of 2015, in time for the Expo. Politicians and Brebemi spa executives alike are quite optimistic: the money is there and the work will be completed on schedule.


Traffic jam at the idroscalo

But, even with the outer ring road, the Brebemi A35 has a problem: it just doesn’t get to Milan and cannot, therefore, connect to the East Freeway. Coming from Brescia, in fact, after traveling about eighty km on two or three lanes in each direction, all the traffic from the Rivoltana gets bottlenecked in a roundabout near the Idroscalo at Novegro (MI). And, from there, another 2 km through roundabouts and traffic lights. Just two days after the inauguration, Novegro plunged in total chaos. "The Province of Milan had agreed to address these problems, but so far nothing has been done" says Duilio Allegrini, general manager of Brebemi.


The Segrate swamp

And on the Cassanese things are even worse: coming from Brescia on the new two lane superhighway, the traffic slows down, through a series of roundabouts and traffic lights, in the center of Segrate, before you get to the Ring Road East. On this stretch a sort of ring road was planned that should have by-passed Segrate. The project, however, got stuck due to a tragicomic incident: work on the first building site, under the responsibility of Milano-Serravalle, has been suspended for four years because, during the preparatory work an underground aquifer was intercepted. And now, for the locals, that's a lake, a river, or maybe a swamp. "Segrate River", they call it. Also, work on the second site has proved somewhat complicated, relating to the redevelopment of the former customs area, where the Australian giant Westfield is committed to building a large shopping center, with an adjoining section of the new Cassanese: but the Australians - who can blame them - want to, first, see clearly what the situation on the first site is, and therefore haven’t paid a euro yet.


Brescia: the works have stopped

But there's more: the problems are also on the Brescia end. Here the Brebemi A35 joins the "Corda Molle", which was supposed to link Ospitaletto to Montichiari. “Supposed to", because, on the few kilometers that separate Ospitaletto from Travagliato, work has been suspended for a couple of years now: the company Centropadane (the same as the Piacenza-Brescia) was responsible for the project; “was” because meanwhile the grants have expired and, in the absence of an extension by the Government, there was nothing else to do but close the construction site and send everyone home.


Where are the road signs?!

It is quite evident, therefore, that infrastructures connecting the various highways are lacking. And the existing ones are, moreover, badly indicated: for motorists coming from Veneto, for example, finding the toll gates from Brescia Centro and Brescia Est is a real challenge, given the need to exit the highway and take - in the absolute lack of road signs - the busy ring road south of Brescia, before reaching the two-lane highway leading to the A35.


Costs and timing

But it is also a matter of costs. We have travelled on the Brebemi and then the A4 between Milano-Forlanini and Brescia Ovest. The route of the new motorway is shorter by 7 km: 82 km against 89km on the A4. With free-flowing traffic, it takes 49 minutes from toll to toll on the Brebemi A35, compared with 63 on the A4, 14 minutes less. And, considering the volume of traffic during peak hours on the A4 and the traffic jams in case of works or accidents, the advantage may even increase. What is the problem then? Costs. For the Brebemi the toll is 10.50 euro, against 6.30 on the A4. Almost twice. It is therefore logical that, especially truck drivers and commuters not circulating during peak hours have defected en masse the Brebemi. As well as those who come from areas north and west of Milan, for which the A4 still represents the most convenient route.


The financial situation

The Brebemi motorway has cost 2.4 billion euro, but not to the state. It was in fact built through project financing: the money was raised by private shareholders who control Brebemi spa through the Infrastrutture Lombarde Holding including the BBM consortium (led by Pizzarotti, Unieco and Consorzio Cooperative Costruzioni), Banca Intesa , Gavio and Ubi Banca. The project was financed by a series of bridging loans from the EIB (European Investment Bank), Deposits, Loan Funds and a syndicate of banks led by Intesa. The company managing the Brebemi project has made the “no cost for the State and taxpayers” its slogan. However, right from the start, Bettoni asked for government intervention and tax relief for 498 million euro, a possibility offered by the “Decreto del Fare” but that certainly sounds like a desperate plea for help for the coffers of the company, that, when the project was approved, were in a far different economic situation.


No service areas

The Brebemi shows another serious flaw: there are no service areas. No filling stations, no expressway restaurants, nothing. And parking areas for trucks, are essential. Tenders for their construction (two service areas in each direction) were almost deserted three times, and now the president of Brebemi, Francesco Bettoni, promises to open two service areas in Caravaggio in the coming months, resorting to private negotiation. What a disappointment, this Brebemi!

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