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Alberto Vitucci
Venice madness, A “tube” under the lagoon
6 Luglio 2004
Venice and its Lagoon (english translations)
Incredible: it is not Berlusconi, not Lunardi his Minister of Public Works, but is the centre-left coalition Mayor, Mr Paolo Costa, who stubbornly insists to build a subway under the lagoon. Hereafter two articles by Alberto Vitucci, from La Nuova Venezia 23rd and 25th July 2003, inform on the current threats


A dreadful project, as it affects the hard layer of clay consolidated in thousands of years (“caranto”) which is the geologic base of the entire system of the Venice lagoon islands. In addition, it introduces elements that severely ruin the gentle lagoon landscape, opening the way for even further real estate speculations.

Most of all, the project is disgraceful because its ultimate objectives radically clash with Venice and its heritage traditional values: it promotes mass tourism (which is much more harmful than high waters) and a “modernism” that could have appeared seductive at the Marinetti’s times but is definitely undergoing a deep crisis nowadays. It also denies ones of the most significant and inherent Venice quality: the lengthy times needed to walk around the town: slowness as a necessary condition for taking up a contemplative attitude.

“Sublagunare”, underwater lagoon subway, tomorrow the verdict

Three tube stations and a terminal in the middle of the lagoon


VENICE. The independent consultants have turned down the project. Now the City Council entrusts the decision to an inner committee. The future of the lagoon subway is in the hands of a pool of municipality chief executives who will meet up tomorrow to express their opinions. However, also among the “insiders” there are some doubts.

Doubts regards the geologic aspect of the project and its environmental impact (especially concerning the four stations in the lagoon), its costs, and how will it be possible to dispose the million of tons of material that should be excavated in order to create space for a tunnel long more than 5 kilometres. Doubts also concern the project cost effectiveness. The Mayor Paolo Costa is very keen on the subway project. It is one of its administration priorities regardless the opposition of many environmentalist and culture pressure groups.

The project consists of an underwater railway connection between Tessera (Venice airport) and the Arsenale, for the transport of both goods and people, with in-between stops at Murano and Fondamente Nuove, and an interchange terminal in the middle of the lagoon for trains and waterbuses.

ACTV (the City Council transport company) has presented a project-financing scheme that estimates the project cost in approximately 300 million euro. 40% of the costs should be on ACTV (120 million euro) and the rest financed by the Municipality. According to the proponents, the subway will give «new life to the north-east side of the city», such as the Arsenale area. The opponents say that not only the project presents many cultural and environmental problems, but is not even economically feasible and will only bring even more mass tourism.

Some months ago the committee of experts entrusted by the Mayor Paolo Costa («The best experts in the world », he promised) has given the thumbs down to the project. Members of the committee were: Ennio Cascetta, professor at the University of Naples, Virginio Bettini (University of Venice IUAV), Alberto Burghignoli (University of Rome La Sapienza), Dino Rizzi (University of Venice Ca’ Foscari), Pier Vettor Grimani, Silvio Pancheri and Antonio Stefanon.

The committee of experts has raised a number of objections, also on the transport level. «On this basis the inner committee will attempt to provide the City Council some proposal for project adjustment», says Roberto Scibilia, the project manager. «And on the basis of both papers we will decide whether we will accept the ACTV proposal», says Marco Corsini, City Councillor for Public Works.

By September, the Municipality will have to take a final decision, regardless the embarrassment of the environmentalist members of the City Council and that part of the DS Party (Left Democrats) who have always opposed the under-water railway and in addition to the doubts expressed by the committee of experts.

To build the under-water subway, that for the first time would make the futuristic dream true under the lagoon waters, millions cubic meters of lagoon will need to be excavated. Stations will partially be built under water, with a platform and large vent-holes remaining on the surface. The larger station will be Murano – where the project foresees a goods interchange nod. Another station will be Fondamente Nuove, where an endless and fruitless debate about the creation of a frequent waterbus or ferry connection with TesseraAirport has been going on for years.

“Sublagunare”, a hurdle-race A seven kilometres long railway tunnel under the lagoon ALBERTO VITUCCI

VENICE. The underwater subway project is becoming a hurdle-race. Yesterday, the inner committee entrusted by the City Council finished its works and delivered its report to the project manager, Mr Roberto Scibilia. The doubts over the project increase and sum up with those emerged from the independent committee that rejected the project two months ago. Now Mr Scibilia will have to sum up all the remarks and hand them over to the City Council that will need to take the final decision.

The final meeting chaired by the City General Director Ms Ilaria Bramezza had its moments of tension, for instance, when the Director invited all “not to release information to the press” and “only to give indications to the proponent (ACTV) in order for the project to go forward “. «It’s not up to us to pass or reject the project », said Ms Bramezza, «it will be a political decision ».

However, in the meantime, the number of technical negative evaluations increases. While experts of transportation ask for “more in-depth analysis” about passengers estimations, economists attempt to assess the project cost effectiveness and its impact on the city socio-economic structure.

Not to mention the environmentalists’ concerns.

This is a project of huge impact, also on the emotional level. It foresees a seven kilometres long tunnel under the lagoon with the train moving under the waters and the “caranto” hard clay layer. To build it, million of cubic meters of material will need to be excavated. Where and how shall this waste material be disposed, also to comply with the national laws on land reclamation? And this is not enough. The layout of the sub-water tunnel goes through a SIC (Site of European Community Interest) and thus is protected under EU regulations that only allow its City «preservation or environmental improvement ».

Finally, we need to consider the project environmental impact, especially as regards the four stations, one of which will be a terminal in the middle of the lagoon for «waterbuses and trains interchange ». Stations will be partially underwater, but with surface access and will include vent-holes every 600 meters.

«It is complicated », confesses Mr Marco Corsini City Councillor for Public Works, «but this is an impactful project at all levels and we want to do things properly. The next step will be to examine the final report written by Mr Scibilia, and then, after the summer holidays, we will take a decision ».

Councillor Corsini and the Mayor staff intend to provide ACTV – that have proposed the project financing – indications on how to adjust the project and go forward. The Mayor Costa is very keen on this project, having included it not only within its electoral manifesto, but also among the priorities of its City Council for the next two years. The Mayor’s position causes some embarrassment in the left-green component of the City government coalition, especially among the Communist Re-foundation and Green parties, together with a good share of the Left-Democrats members of the coalition. «We have to analyse the matter more in-depth and only then we will take a decision», often say Paolo Cacciari, Communist Councillor for the Environment and Gianfranco Bettin, Green Deputy Mayor. But in the meantime the project goes on.

By the first week of September the City Council will decide whether to accept the ACTV proposal to build the subway with 120 million euro, and 180 million euro of public funding. «We will entrust a committee of experts, the best experts in the world», said Mayor Costa. But the committee has given a negative evaluation of the project, expressing doubts on economic, environmental and geologic aspects. That’s why the City Council has asked an inner committee to formulate a new assessment. «We will take a decision on the basis of both reports », informs Councillor Corsini.

Nevertheless, the storm on the underwater railway does not calm down. To be continued after the summer holidays.

21 Agosto 2005

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