The collapse of the bridge in Genoa

This text was prepared by me, originally in Italian, in order to promote a discussion among the member of the AICE  (Italian Association for Total Cost Management) together with members of other associations belonging to the   ICEC (International Cost Engineering Council).

  1. First I believe that we should exclude a design error. Prof. Morandi designed the bridge in the early 60s, making use of the knowledge and of the data that were available at that time. Myself, I have studied engineering a few years later, and I have attended the construction course of prof. Cestelli Guidi by the end of the ’60s: prestressed reinforced concrete was considered to be the building material of the future, the same professor had designed, among other things, Tehran anti-seismic skyscrapers with prestressed RC pillars, an innovative solution at the time (as far as I know, the skyscrapers are still there), more recently Renzo Piano instead of prestressing the concrete has prestressed the stones (Church of St. Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo). Today the prestressed concrete is subject to different consideration, furthermore our knowledge on the phenomenon of fatigue in metals has improved and, not negligible factor, the traffic today is very different from that of the 60s and its evolution was not predictable.
  2. Of course the guilty persons must be punished, but they will never be identified beyond any doubt, this is not for lack of willingness but because it is not possible: the cause of the collapse is not in the fault, or worse in the fraud, of one or more people but mainly in the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of a system in which it is difficult and often impossible to make any decision, that generates a series of omissions none of which caused the disaster, that is a result of the system as a whole and not of the action or omission of any individual. Of course, one or more scapegoats will be found to feed the public, that is not right but it is a political and social need that must be met.
  3. Also the revocation of the convention is a political act, for which the above is valid. However, the dealer has a patrimony of technical skills that will be lost, and I doubt that the management of the motorway park will improve.
  4. So what can be done to resolve the problems of Genoa, that badly needs that bridge? We need a commissioner with full powers to operate “praeter legem” and in some cases even “contra legem”, to assign the works without being subject to administrative or other appeals and so on. To do this in the past we would rely on militaries, and it must be said objectively that as long as this has been possible the system worked (Olympics of Rome, 1960), in the following era we relied on the Civil Protection, but also this is no longer possible. It is natural to think that envy, latent defect of our people and not only of our people, tends to destroy all that, working well, gives shine to those involved, but we reject these evil thoughts. Today we need a commissioner with full powers and supported by a special law, about the debate whether it should be a “politician” or a “technician” the comment is that, whoever he is, he must be able not only to dialogue, but to impose himself, both confronting the politicians and the technicians.
  5. The discourse becomes more complex if we consider the problem of public works in Italy in general. It would require an authority with strong powers, capable of deciding and reforming the system of construction and management of public works by increasing the discretionary decision-making powers of the managers, who will however be fully responsible of their actions: to dissolve individual responsibility in a plethora of committees and in an incomprehensible sequela of acts and procedures serves only to not decide and not to act.

Gianluca di Castri

26/09/2018

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