ROME — Top Italian officials on Wednesday called for the resignation of the heads of the company operating many of the nation’s roadways, including a highway bridge in Genoa whose collapse killed at least 37 people, according to the Associated Press.
Calling the collapse “unjustifiable,” the government leaders also threatened to impose a massive fine on the company, Autostrade per l’Italia, and turn over highway management to the state.
“The guilty party of the tragedy in Genoa has a name and surname, and it’s Autostrade per l’Italia,” Italy’s deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, wrote on Facebook before viewing the rubble of the Morandi Bridge by helicopter. “Autostrade should’ve carried out maintenance and didn’t. We need to pull back concessions and inflict fines.”
The questions about the company’s role in the collapse arose as work continued to find bodies and potential survivors in the wreckage of steel and concrete. It is unclear what caused the bridge to give way Tuesday during a major rainstorm.
Autostrade per l’Italia said in a statement that maintenance work had been ongoing, and experts said that the risks of reinforced concrete infrastructure can increase after several decades.
The bridge collapse, which happened during the height of Italy’s summer travel season, caused trucks and cars to plummet more than 150 feet. The AP, which attributed the latest death toll to the prefect office in Genoa, said there were also 16 injuries.
The investigation into the collapse and the questions about accountability, are likely to pose one of the first major challenges to Italy’s new government, which took power two-and-a-half months ago. That government, composed of two populist parties, has wrestled internally over other infrastructure projects and has already pledged spending increases elsewhere.
Danilo Toninelli, Italy’s transport minister, called Wednesday for a “Marshall Plan” to improve the country’s infrastructure, much of which was built in the 1960s and 1970s. He said the government had started a process to levy files of $170 million on Autostrade per l’Italia, which is majority-owned by Atlantia SpA, publicly traded on the Milan Stock Exchange. Toninelli did not explain how he had accounted for such a prospective fine.
On Tuesday shares of Atlantia SpA saw their biggest intraday drop since 2008, according to Bloomberg, but recovered somewhat and finished the day down 5.4 percent.
Autostrade per l’Italia operates some 1,800 miles of highway in the country.
Lanfranco Senn, a professor emeritus of transport economics at Bocconi University in Milan, said the company is “practically a monopoly” in Italy.
“It has such a big network to take care of,” said Senn, who noted that there have been several other deadly — but smaller — infrastructure disasters in Italy in recent years.
“It may be that the maintenance has been underestimated across the country,” he said.