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Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 22:07 GMT 23:07 UK
Sicilian bridge to go ahead
Photo simulation of the Messina bridge
A photo simulation of the proposed Messina bridge

Construction of a controversial suspension bridge connecting the Mediterranean island of Sicily to the Italian mainland will begin in three years' time and should be completed by 2010, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
There are serious doubts over Berlusconi's decision
Plans to build a massive bridge spanning the Straits of Messina date back at least three decades.

If it is ever built, the bridge will be one of the biggest and most costly public-works projects ever undertaken in Italy.

The latest estimate is $4.5 billion, but interest payments could drive this figure up considerably.

The government plans to get private investment to cover more than half the total cost in exchange for toll fees.

But there has been considerable scepticism in the business world about the financial viability of the project.

Mixed reaction

The bridge will be five kilometres long and its central span - supported by four steel cables each nearly a metre-and-a-half in diameter - will measure over three kilometres.

It will rise 64m above sea level and will contain a double six-lane highway and four tracks for a new high-speed railway line planned to link the Sicilian capital, Palermo, with the rest of Italy.

Reaction to Mr Berlusconi's decision to go ahead with the bridge was mixed.

Administrators and politicians in Sicily said the bridge would mean the island would no longer be isolated from the rest of Europe.

But Italy's Green Party said it was ridiculous to spend such astronomic sums on the bridge when many Sicilians remained without a proper water supply and the island's roads are badly in need of modernisation.

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