In a world first, members of the Sicilian Parliament decided they got paid too much, and all gave back more than half their salaries to be used to help the public in need. The fund was recently put to use for its first public project when a road collapsed, leaving one community entirely cut off from the outside world.
It was once originally a dirt road, a path laid by farmers two centuries ago which was gradually promoted to being a state road that shortened the travelling time between Palermo and Catania. When the new, 13 million Euro Himera viaduct spectacularly collapsed earlier this year, part of the Autostrada 19, the only motorway connection between these two largest cities in Sicily, this little state road became the one and only direct connection from one side of Sicily to the other. The Himera viaduct collapse left Sicilans gasping in amazement, since it collapsed a mere three weeks after opening; in most countries, it takes an earthquake to cause such damage yet the Himera motorway collapsed under the weight of light traffic.
Never intended to carry so much traffic, this two-hundred-year-old road collapsed. The citizens of Caltavuturo, a small town in the province of Palermo, were left with absolutely no connection to the outside world. To get food delivered to their shops they literally had to have delivery vehicles go off-road. They were wondering whether they would have to go back to donkey travel.
The regional Sicilian government, headed by President Crocetta, said that building a new road would probably take ten years and cost at least ten million Euros. They wanted to build a bigger, better road and conduct multiple analyses of the soil, the terrain and so on. Meanwhile, the solution they offered to the people stranded in Caltavolturo was… nothing.
Last week a new road was opened, built by a group of engineers entirely independent of the government and renamed Honesty Road. The government had proven itself incompetent so the citizens decided to ignore it. How did they pay for the road? The road was funded with just over 300 thousand euro, money coming from the wages paid by the 14 regional members of parliament of the Movimento 5 Stelle, the new Italian anti-corruption party led by Italian comedian Beppe Grillo. This party was once dismissed by biased journalists as nothing more than a protest vote. (In Italy journalists receive their wages from the government – free press? I don’t think so!) Since being elected a few years ago, all the members of parliament representing this party have been voluntarily transferring more than half their salary into a fund, which they promised would be used to help citizens who really needed it.
Why did they do this? Italian politicians are the most highly paid in Europe. An Italian regional member of parliament, for example, who is in charge of an area about the size of Essex Fells, New Jersey, gets paid more than Barack Obama. The Movimento 5 Stelle tried to bring a vote to get politicans’ salaries reduced, but was outvoted by all the other parties. This did not stop them putting hteir money where their mouths were, though. They could not reduce everyone’s salaries, but they could reduce their own.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new road was led by Vice President of the Chamber Luigi Di Maio. “A month after starting work, work paid for with money that MPs from the Movimento 5 Stelle return each month, is now a reality. The tens of thousands of motorists who with have been forced to climb twisting paths in the mountains of Polizzi to go from eastern Sicily to the west, and vice versa, can now breathe a huge sigh of relief” said representatives of the M5S. “The stretch of road is about one kilometre long and five metres wide and connects highway 643 with the provincial road 24, which in turn enters the junctions of Scillato and Tremonzelli: it was made of concrete, with gutters and guardrails and a traffic light near the single-lane dirt road, where phased traffic will alternately travel one-way.”
On the new road, named Via dell’Onestà or Honesty Road, there were street signs prohibiting transit to the governor of Sicily, Rosario Crocetta. After the collapse of the bridge on the motorway from Catania to Palermo, drivers he had to literally climb the mountain range in the Madonie Nature Reserve, take the main road 626, and cross Polizzi Generosa, the tiny mountain town where film director Martin Scorsese’s parents originally came from. This detour added an hour of driving time to the 200 kilometre journey between Palermo and Catania. The new M5S road should shorten the time by at least half an hour.
More importantly, the citizens of Caltavuturo are at last re-connected with the outside world and with the 20th century. Many of them were moved to tears at the official opening of the new road and delivered deeply impassioned speeches to the TV cameras.
The opening of the new shortcut, however, has been sharply criticized the Councillor for Sicilian Infrastructure, Giovanni Pizzo, member of a rival political party. “Sure you can reach your destination sooner by jumping off the balcony instead of taking the elevator,” he fumed. “It is a metaphor but you get the idea: The dirt road is for tractors, not for cars. In my view it is very dangerous. The first driver to have a serious accident will not claim damages from the M5S, but from the municipality of Caltavuturo “, attacked the commissioner.
“Of course the road has its limitations,” responded members of the M5S, “like the 20 kilometres per hour speed restriction, and limiting the movement of heavy goods vehicles over three and a half tons. But going from this to claiming that the road is only fit for tractors and agricultural vehicles, as the Councillor would have people believe, is ludicrous. This road is much easier and less dangerous to use than the old twisting mountain road up to Polizzi Generosa, which until now was used by those who needed to travel between Palermo to Catania. This is not the ultimate solution to the problem of the motorway, we want to emphasize this, but it will certainly be an outlet that enables drivers to save kilometres and travel time. The government-funded motorway which completely collapsed three weeks after a new bridge was built still needs to be reconstructed, by the government we hope. We would agree that that particular road was indeed dangerous.”
“How long will the Renzi government take to fix that collapsed viaduct on the motorway? We are issuing a challenge: do better than us, and replace the collapsed viaduct, “said Di Maio. Work to restore the Himera viaduct on the A 19 motorway is still, apparently, in the “planning” phase. “The work must start as soon as possible,” said Infrastructure Minister Graziano Delrio, who arrived in Sicily soon after the collapse of the viaduct. Now, four months later, the situation remains absolutely unchanged.