Friday, September 19, 2008

Bridges

We’ve all heard quite enough about the infamous ‘bridge to nowhere’ in Alaska. And yesterday, the new I-35W bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis opened. So bridges are on my mind.

Italy has its own bridge controversy going. For decades, some folks have advocated a bridge between Sicily and the mainland (Reggio di Calabria), over the Straits of Messina. The project has been on-again, off-again while the merry-go-round that is the Italian government tries to finally decide. Silvio Berlusconi, the once and current Prime Minister, is all for it.

This would be a very costly proposition – 4.4 billion Euros, which is somewhere near 3.1 billion dollars. The bridge would be about 2.5 miles long, so that’s more than a billion per mile. Yikes! And a major fault line runs right under the proposed bridge route. The bridge would cut the crossing time in half – but that means saving all of 15 minutes!

People have been crossing that narrow strip of water in boats ever since boats were invented. The huge ferries and the hydrofoils (see photo at left) are famous. And they work quite well. I have enjoyed two crossings -- admittedly as just a wide-eyed tourist.

Bridges can be beautiful, famous, iconic. But I wonder if this isn’t just a big ego thing for Mr. Berlusconi (and a power thing for mainland interests). Pyramids are passé, and Italian prime ministers don’t build palatial libraries like ex-presidents in the USA do. So maybe a big fancy bridge with his name on it is Berlusconi’s best shot at immortality.

My biggest objection: The bridge celebrates the hegemony of the automobile at the expense of everything else – history, tradition, serenity, sanity. Sicily, like most other islands, has its own languorous pace. Please, Mr. Berlusconi, don’t wreck that.

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