October 17, 2005 The long-standing project to build the world’s largest bridge between Sicily and mainland Italy has cleared one of its final remaining obstacles and now seems certain to go ahead – the announcement of the winning tender by the Italian construction company Impregilo was made late last week. Impregilo will begin work on the project next year and is expected to finish construction of the world’s largest bridge by 2012. The 3.8 billion euro bridge will cross the Strait of Messina with a single 3300 metre central span, eclipsing the current longest span of the Akashi Kaikyo bridge in Japan (1991 metres) by two thirds again. The bridge’s total length will be 3,666 metres, with a deck of 60.4 metres, six traffic lanes, two service lanes and two railway lines. The bridge’s statistics dwarf all of the World's Greatest Bridges.
Massive political turmoil has surrounded the bridge since it was first conceived in the sixties, with several different bridge designs debated, a tunnel considered, and the social, environmental and economic impacts also hotly debated.
Before committing to the choice of a single span design, the possibility of constructing a smaller suspension bridge was assessed. The choices were a bridge with two towers in relatively shallow waters, or one with a single central tower in deeper waters (150 m). Many unfavourable elements were found with regard to the safety, construction and maintenance of the latter because of the depth in the centre of the Strait, the strong irregular currents, the presence of active faults, greater sensitivity to earthquakes and the dangers deriving from interference with maritime traffic in a navigable channel that is already particularly demanding.
Impregilo S.p.A., Italy’s leading infrastructure constructor, has been awarded the top score on its tender for the construction of the bridge over the Straits of Messina, the contract-awarder announced today.
Impregilo S.p.A. will therefore act as General Contractor for construction of the bridge; it holds a 45% share in the vehicle formed for the project, whose other investors are Sacyr SA (18.70%), Società Italiana Condotte (15%), Cooperativa CMC (13%), Ishikawajma-Harima Heavy Industries Co. (6.30%) and Aci Consorzio Stabile of the Gavio group (2%). The project engineer is Cowi. The General Contractor has arranged a pre-financing for an amount equivalent to 15% of the project with Banca Intesa, CARIGE, Banca Popolare Italiana.
The contract was awarded on a 3.88 billion euro tender, a reduction of 12.33% on the basic bid price of 4.43 billion euro; construction will be completed within a maximum timeframe of 70 months.
The bid was drawn up after extensive analysis over the last 12 months by Impregilo, together with the engineering and research units of the other companies in the grouping and with Cowi, during which all project components, construction technologies and methods were examined and assessed; based on their analysis, the grouping were able to formulate a cost-effective bid with an outstanding technical content.
The members of the Impregilo grouping boast significant experience in this type of construction project; more specifically, Impregilo built the second suspension bridge over the Bosphorus in Turkey, for a length of 1087 m; Cowi engineered the Storebealt bridge linking Denmark and Sweden, while Japan’s IHI was lead company on the construction of the Akashi Kaikyo, the world’s longest suspension bridge.
“We are very proud to have been awarded this important contract for a project that will represent the state-of-the-art in Europe and worldwide,” said Impregilo S.p.A. Chief Executive Officer Alberto Lina.
“I believe that the decisive element was our detailed project analysis,” commented Alberto Rubegni, head of Engineering & Construction at Impregilo. “This involved development of special assembly techniques on all technical, planning and construction components, with the result that we were able to present a highly competitive bid.”
“The award of this contract is the outcome of an extremely complex team effort that began in 2002 and involved 130 people from all the companies in the grouping, together with the specialists at Denmark’s COWI and the scientists of the IHI research centres in Japan,” added Alberto Lina.
Impregilo is the constructor of some of Europe’s and the world’s most important infrastructures. Current general contractor projects in Italy include the Milan-Turin and Bologna-Florence high-speed railways, the Mestre Orbital, the Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway, the Monte Bianco-Aosta motorway and the Genoa and Naples underground railways. Abroad, Impregilo is working on the St Gothard railway tunnel in Switzerland, the Caracas-Tuy Medio and Puerto Cabello-Encrujiada railways in Venezuela, the Athens underground, the Karahnjukar dam in Iceland and the Mazar dam in Ecuador, and the Portland tunnel in the USA.
“This is a crucial turning point for the bridge project“, said Pietro Ciucci, C.E.O. of Stretto di Messina SpA. “Today marks the end of a phase started in the late 60s with the launch of a contest to submit ideas for the creation of a stable link between Sicily and Calabria. I would like to thank the Awarding Committee for their commitment and professionalism in the last few months in performing the complex bid evaluation work. In announcing the results of the tender, the President of the Awarding Committee, Renato Laschena, Esq., underlined the professionalism, energy and commitment demonstrated by both bidders in the planning phase, being fully aware of the scope of this project, which is certainly the most important engineering work in Italy in the last sixty years”.
“The project has evolved greatly in the last few years during which, in line with the set deadlines, the preliminary project was prepared and approved, a suitable corporate organisation was set up and four international tenders were called to choose all the subjects to be involved in the implementation of this project”, declared Mr. Pietro Ciucci.
On the subject of timing, the C.E.O. stated that: “Once the requirements are checked as established, Stretto di Messina SpA will appoint the definitive winner with resolution by its Board of Directors. The contract is expected to be signed between November and December, upon completion of all the other checks provided for by law. The first task to be performed by the general contractor will concern the preparation of the final design. It will be in this context that the requests made by the Municipalities and Provincial Boards concerned by the work will be acceded. The Project Management Consultant, the Environmental Monitor and the Insurance Broker are all expected to be selected by the end of 2005. Work will start in 2006”.
“This is an important day for the construction of a great engineering work that will relaunch the infrastructural system of Southern Italy, develop the railway capacity south of Naples and create the Berlin-Palermo corridor, by including Sicily and Calabria in the great European transport network”, stated Mr. Giuseppe Zamberletti, President of Stretto di Messina SpA.
Though it’s hard to contemplate a bigger bridge than the Messina bridge, there are several others under consideration that would usurp its status as the world’s largest bridge by a very large margin. They are:
1. The Strait of Gibraltar
Taking their name from the famous Berber Muslim General Tariq ibn-Ziyad who conquered Spain in 711, the Straits of Gibraltar stand between Europe and Africa, and the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. The Gibraltar Bridge would offer immense benefits to both Morocco and Spain, though the format of the bridge and its funding are still far from finalised though it appears that the choice of a bridge over a tunnel has been made . There’s an excellent essay on the proposed bridge from Francisco Ferrer here and a radical proposal for a floating bridge by architect Eugene Tsui here.
2. The Dardanelles
At the point where Europe meets Asia Minor, the Dardanelles is the 61-km-long (38-mi) strait between the Aegean Sea and the Marmara Sea. The westernmost section of the waterway divides Europe from Asia and connects the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
3. Sunda Strait, Indonesia
A feasibility study for the construction of a bridge linking the main Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra was commissioned in the mid-nineties but never released. Sumatra and Java are separated by Sunda Strait which is about 25 km wide and its narrowest point and has the added difficulty of running very close to a famous volcanic island named Krakatoa which exploded famously in 1883 and does so quite regularly every few hundred/thousand years. At one point a 60-kilometre bridge was under discussion but more recently the possibility of the bridge being built is waning given that the Nusantara Project to build a rail tunnel between the islands is gathering momentum.