Facts, fictions and the meaning of responsibility
The collapse of the A10 bridge in Genoa is a national tragedy. Emotions are running high, and rightly so, and foremost in our thoughts must be the 43 people who lost their lives, and their loved ones.
However, the causes of the bridge collapse are likely to be complex and it is important that the right lessons are learned which is hard to do in a toxic atmosphere of claim and counter claim as if the court of public opinion is the only one that matters.
Some of the claims made to date have simply been false, such as reports that ambulances and rescue vehicles were forced to pay tolls to access the site. Published photos which claimed to show corrosion were old photos or of another bridge altogether, and these only serve to distract from the real lessons.
Similarly, some commentators have laid the blame on Europe’s fiscal austerity demands, a view that would make logical sense only if the catastrophe was due to inadequate public investments. Others have accused the bridge’s operator – which can’t in any case spend taxpayers’ money.
But none of that has much to do with what happened in Genoa nor with what needs to be done. The euro-zone budget rules are up for debate, but Autostrade per l’Italia, the roads and bridges operator, has been a robust investor even in the face of bureaucratic delays. What happened is a painful tragedy, above all for the 43 dead and their kin, but also for wider circles in our society. It is right to cry, mourn, and even to blame, but wrong to burn down the house. Let’s not be over hasty in apportioning blame lest vital understanding of what happened is lost in the witch-hunt for culprits.
Cardinal Bagnasco hit the right chord in his funeral homily in Genoa’s cathedral, noting that this kind of awful experience is one that can remind us of how powerless we each are and how the ties of family, friendship and civil society depend so much on our confidence that we live in a world in which we can rely upon one another.
We also need to understand what happened in all its complexity. Atlantia is making the right move by publishing its account of the facts, offering some basic truths so that a meaningful debate can be had.
Some points are worth reflection. The Morandi bridge was more than 50 years old, as are tens of thousands of bridges around the country. It was built by a state-owned company fulfilling a state tender. The design was initially praised, although later criticized. And whilst it is true a similar design by the same architect also suffered a partial collapse, this happened after it was hit by an oil tanker.
The Genoa bridge was closely monitored and subject to regular inspections, and in fact the local newspaper lamented that it was often clogged up due to building works.
It’s time to for an honest, empathetic and fact-based discussion. This is the only way to ensure the correct lessons are learned. After earthquakes knocked out Los Angeles freeways – causing much loss of life as well as a logistical nightmare – the city tossed out some taboos and rolled out incentives to hasten repairs and managed to beat its schedule.
Rebuilding the A10 bridge is an opportunity for Italy to show that its leaders can come together in a time of crisis and put aside their differences to deliver help to the people most affected and repair the bridge in a timely and effective way.