September 25, 2018 / 3:30 PM / in a month

Autostrade rebuffs government report blaming it for failings in bridge collapse

ROME/MILAN (Reuters) - The Italian government and Autostrade got into a war of words on Tuesday after Rome published a report blaming the toll road operator for failings in the deadly Genoa bridge collapse.

FILE PHOTO: Firefighter helicopter flies over the collapsed Morandi Bridge in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

The report, laying out evidence Rome is expected to use to strip Autostrade of its concessions to run Italian motorways, said the company had failed to assess the safety of the bridge.

But Autostrade in a later statement rejected the findings, saying the report had not clarified the causes of the collapse, adding its own technicians had no access to the site for checks.

“In this context the liabilities the Committee lays at the door of Autostrade can only be considered mere hypotheses that still need to be wholly tested and demonstrated,” it said.

The government has blamed Autostrade for serious oversights in the collapse of the Morandi bridge that killed 43 people and has said it intends to revoke its Italian motorway concessions.

Tuesday’s report by a committee at the Transport Ministry said Autostrade had been unable to deal with issues arising from the ageing of the infrastructure it operated.

The report, noting 98 percent of investments to reinforce the bridge since 1982 had been spent before the privatisation of Autostrade in 1999, said the company had not carried out safety test assessments it previously claimed it had.

But Autostrade said that under Italian regulations such tests were not required for infrastructure located in certain seismic areas such as the one the Genoa bridge lies in.

Autostrade, controlled by the Benetton family through Atlantia, runs nearly 3,000 kilometres of highways in Italy and accounts for more than 60 percent of its parent company’s core earnings.

Rome has said it does not want Autostrade to play a role in rebuilding the bridge but expects it to pay for it.

Earlier on Tuesday a judge ruled that a rebuilding of the bridge could not start for at least two months to allow experts to complete site inspections.

Reporting by Stefano Bernabei in Rome, Stephen Jewkes and Valentina Za in Milan and Paola Balsomini in Genoa; writing by Francesca Landini; editing by Valentina Za/Mark Heinrich

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