The involvement of the affected communities is critical for the quality of the project and its implementation.
Here we tell the story of the Passante di Bologna, a strategic work that gave rise to a public debate that has brought together national and local institutions, Autostrade per l’Italia, and all citizens to seek shared solutions.
Thirty years of planning and conflicts.
Two alternative hypotheses studied in detail, one to the north of the city, and one to the south.
The pros and cons were analyzed for years, while public authorities and citizens remained divided between the two solutions presented.
Debates, meetings, demonstrations, leaflets, and yet more meetings on how the ring road traffic congestion could be eased. Then a few months ago, there was a twist in the plot: both cases were taken off the table, and a ‘third way’ was proposed, attempting to win everyone’s approval.
Welcome to Bologna, which is preparing to implement its new bypass, the result of planning by Autostrade per l’Italia, three internationally renowned architects, and the citizens of Bologna, in a unique concerted action.
We talked about it with Mario Bergamo, Director of Infrastructure Engineering, and Roberto Tomasi, Co-Director of New Works, who on behalf of Autostrade per l’Italia – from July to October 2016 – met with residents, and local administrators and associations, to explain what the new bypass will entail and discuss the work in the smallest details.
“In half a century, the Italian network has grown significantly,” Mario Bergamo declared.
“In the sixties and seventies, when most of it was built, there was talk of a daily traffic flow of 20,000 vehicles: today it can easily reach up to 70,000 vehicles and in some cases, such as on the Milan-Bergamo stretch, even up to 100,000.
This increase mainly occurred between the end of the nineties and 2008-2009, and so at some point, it became necessary to lay the foundations for an investment plan for the construction of the second, third, and fourth lanes in the most congested points.” The idea of a ‘bypass’ or ring road, capable of freeing the Bologna node from a part of the daily traffic took shape in the mid-eighties.
First, consideration was given to the possibility of a northern bypass, then of a southern one. The city’s opinion was divided, as was that of its administrators.
Projects got bogged down, started up again, and then stopped again.
“The Bologna node has a special characteristic: it is simultaneously the national highway network junction – given that the A13 from the north and the Adriatic A14 and the two A1 highways coming from the north and south all meet in Bologna – and the node of the local road system,” explained Roberto Tomasi.
“At the time, the ring road was created and designed to be located outside the city, but with the growth of the city, it became incorporated into it. Today, this is a major problem because some homes are just a few dozen meters from the lanes, and its expansion is viewed with concern.”
The solutions developed over the last thirty years planned to remove the traffic from the city center, with outer ring roads that would serve as the roads for new hypothetical poles of industrial development.
However, there has not been any industrial development, the committees for ‘no’ have raged on, and meanwhile, the traffic has continued to increase.
Tomasi explained, “In the end, a decision was made to expand the existing highway, which called for a widening of six and a half meters on each side, and in some areas, even ten meters.
In practice, on both the A14 and the ring road, a three-lane deck plus an emergency lane for each direction of travel will be constructed, and in the most heavily trafficked stretches, there will even be 4 lanes.
”The bypass will bring the infrastructure and cars rather close to some homes, and that is also why Autostrade per l’Italia decided to precede the Decree Law no. 50/2016 (which now makes it mandatory), and organize a public confrontation that lasted for more than four months.
There were hours and hours of discussion, tens of thousands of pages of documents were placed at the disposal of the citizens, and a ‘ping pong’ of information, critical, data, inquiries, investigations, and modifications.
Bergamo confided, “It was a difficult but extremely interesting and productive experience that taught us how tough yet crucial it is to ‘stand up’ for something.
People were wary, but then when they realized we really were there to listen to them, their attitude gradually changed. The ring road is a significant break in the urban fabric, a physical barrier.
The value of this project, among others, lies in the planning efforts to reconnect the city, by using its own infrastructure as a means of mending the territory.”
Through the upgrading of public parks, the creation of bike paths and wooded areas, even of a new plaza that will built above the ring road in the San Donnino area, the bypass is thus an attempt to reconnect the areas of Bologna that had previously been divided by the ring road.
Tomasi continued, “The public debate was very stimulating, because generally a project is presented to the citizens when it is already finished, and this naturally creates difficulties.
But in this case, we had already submitted the preliminary design to them, and so we had had to account for environmental solutions, alternatives to the road system, and the architectural development. This gave a vital impulse to the organization, making the process a smart one.
For the first time we developed a project envisaging from the outset all the networking activities and insertion of works in the city fabric in an integrated manner, with the best projects on bike paths, parks, underpasses, and green areas, in short, all those works that have a value linked not only to the infrastructure but to the urban environment as well.
When talking with the citizens, their concerns regarding public health, the strength of the design solution, and attention to an environmental upgrading emerged.
Health was the main point raised, and our own and the citizens’ greatest concerns regarded the acoustic protection and vehicle emissions.
For this, we have provided for the extension of about 60% of the current barriers plus the construction of thirteen kilometers of even higher and more protective sound barriers than those already existing. As regards air pollution, we now know that improving the viability of the bypass system will reduce the ‘stop-and-go’ traffic, the most polluting kind, and according to various international studies, with a traffic flow rate of about 80 km/h, pollution will be reduced by 30%.
The rest will be done by the manufacturers: since the beginning of 2000 to date, some reports estimate that pollution has been reduced by more than 50% simply by improvements on the new models of cars.” The Passante di Bologna is ready to set an example.
“From the meetings to the evaluation up to the final plan, it might take us half a year,” Tomasi said hopefully. “For a work costing 650 million euros, that would be a first, but before claiming victory we aim to finish everything in the next seven months, in order to break ground in November 2017.
That would be a great achievement, and set an example for other works of this type.”