Valico alternative route: road works ahead
The Valico alternative route is the new “under construction” motorway that should unite Italy.
Very important road works with various problems
by Massimo Lanari
Even if, as Autostrade per l’Italia declares, “based on the surveys carried out, almost all heavy vehicles (90% of traffic) will use the new artery and only 10% will use the existing infrastructure. As far as light vehicles are concerned, we believe that about 40% will use the Valico alternative route and 60% the existing route”.
Currently, they are the most important road works in Italy, as drivers crossing the Apennines between Bologna and Florence will have realized: the Valico alternative route is the new motorway that should “reunite” Italy by bypassing the bottleneck between Roncobilaccio and Barberino del Mugello. The road works are progressing visibly. But there are still plenty of uncertainties. Particularly with regard to what will happen a little further south: if the third lane of the A1 around Florence is not completed quickly, and if the road works don’t begin between Barberino and Florence North, the bottleneck that inconveniences half of Italy will move just a few kilometres.
Project and start up
Starting from the north, between Sasso Marconi and La Quercia (near Rioveggio), the Valico alternative route is simply an adaptation of the old A1: a third lane, removal of dangerous bends, new tunnels. Here, the work that began in 2002 was completed in 2007. From La Quercia to the service area at Aglio (in Tuscany), the Apennines will be crossed by a new three-lane motorway in each direction. Also from Aglio to Barberino there will be a new motorway, but with one difference: it is only for southbound traffic; the present motorway with four lanes will be entirely for northbound vehicles. This is the Valico alternative route. As you can see, between Rioveggio and Aglio drivers will have two motorways for crossing the Apennines. Autostrade per l’Italia is counting on traffic conditions to orient choices by using advisory Matrix Signs. But it would appear that cars and heavy vehicles will not be separated. Even if, as Autostrade per l’Italia declares, “based on the surveys carried out, almost all heavy vehicles (90% of traffic) will use the new artery and only 10% will use the existing infrastructure. As far as light vehicles are concerned, we believe that about 40% will use the Valico alternative route and 60% the existing route”.
But the Valico alternative route is a hot topic. Already at political decision level in 1996, it was the subject of clashes, while a ban on overtaking by heavy vehicles – which still applies – led to the 1999 revolt by truck drivers who blocked holiday traffic with their “tir lumaca” protest. In the end they calmed down with the promise of a new motorway. Which still doesn’t exist: work on the Apennine stretch began in 2004 and should have been completed in 2011. But with litigation, appeals to the Regional Administrative Court of Law (TAR) and bureaucratic slowness, the forecast for opening the entire stretch to traffic is now 2013. Even though the work seems to be making good progress: according to Autostrade per l’Italia, at 31 March 2011, 71.6% of the work had been completed on lot 5A between La Quercia and Rioveggio; 64.9% on the next 3.3-km-long lot 5B; 23.5% of the 6.6 km to Badia Nuova; 89.2% of the base tunnel between Badia Nuova and Aglio; 73.2% of the stretch between the base tunnel and Aglio. On 21 December 2010, work was completed on the 8.6-km-long base tunnel in the heart of the Apennines. And for the Sparvo tunnel in Emilia, they are even using the world’s largest Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM), which 15.7 metres in diameter and 110 metres long. The work is forecast to end in 2013, “but Autostrade aims to open the 22 km between Badia and Aglio by the end of 2012”. However, beware, the picture is far from idyllic. Because the geological complexity of the area (already experienced during the construction of the High-speed rail and the damage caused by numerous springs) may have some unpleasant surprises in store. A case in point are the landslides that began at the height of San Benedetto Val di Sambro. Or the frequent cave-ins when excavating the tunnels. In addition to geological collapses, those of a judicial and financial nature are also not lacking.
Returning to road works, the stretch between Florence North and Florence Scandicci has already been completed; what is left now is the stretch to Florence South. Here, too, the A1 will be doubled between Florence Certosa and Florence South: the old four-lane route will be used only by northbound traffic; the new, three-lane by southbound. The work should have been completed in 2010, but the unexpected collapse of the new Melarancio tunnel in 2008 delayed it by three years. Autostrade seems to be going ahead: “In the summer of 2011 we will open the entire southbound third lane of the carriageway between Florence Certosa and Florence South. The rest of the work should be finished by May 2012”.
We admit that everything is going smoothly for the Valico alternative route and the third lane of the A1 around Florence. What remains is the stretch between Barberino and Florence North, a candidate for becoming the new bottleneck that will block Italy. Here too, let it be clear, a project does exist for the construction of a new three-lane carriageway going south, with the old motorway being used only by northbound vehicles. There’s more. The work should have started on 26 January after a long series of delays. Gennarino Tozzi, joint managing director of network development at Autostrade per l’Italia, puts them down to missing authorizations that took them to the TAR in Lazio. Work is forecast to start in 2012, with completion in 2017. Until that date, the Florence-Bologna will continue to be synonymous with tailbacks, accidents and continual delays. And the Italy of motorways will continue to be divided.