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Transportation

What Brought Down This Bridge in Genoa?

The disaster has focused attention on the state of infrastructure built during the nation’s postwar boom.
The collapsed Morandi Bridge in the Italian city of Genoa.
The collapsed Morandi Bridge in the Italian city of Genoa.Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

In December of 2016, the Genoese newspaper Il Seculo XIX sounded a familiar alarm about Italy’s infrastructure spending: Authorities were too focused on building new things, rather than paying for years of deferred maintenance on aging structures built in previous decades. The story focused in particular on the estimated 5,000 bridges in the region of Liguria. Many had been built in the 1950s and ‘60s. And some of them were falling down.

Antonio Brencich, an engineering professor at the University of Genoa, told reporter Roberto Sculli that until the 1950s, the best bridges in Italy were built to support at least the weight of a U.S. Army Sherman tank; after that, the 60-ton M1 Abrams tank became the benchmark, or at least 2.5 times the weight of expected traffic. But after 10 to 20 years, structural deficiencies were likely to emerge; unless the ongoing maintenance on these bridges was properly funded and kept up, cracks would start to show.