The toll road known as the superstrada Pedemontana Veneta or SPV is the tangible result of the development and planning policies implemented in the Veneto region of NE Italy since World War 2. The road was conceived in 1966 as part of the regional Economic Development Plan as a fast surface road in order to resolve the traffic emergency in an area of rapid economic growth. After more than 20 years in the planning, it was transformed into the costliest toll road in Europe (€8.80 for 84.8 Km between Montebelluna-Valdastico), running between embankments for more than 70 Km of its length in the hydrogeologically most sensitive area of the Veneto region. In accordance with the Terzo Atto Aggiuntivo (Third Additional Act) of the Veneto Region, signed in 2017, the financing of the project falls entirely on the Region, with the eyewatering sums of 914,910,000 euros in capital costs and 153,950,000 euros in running costs for 39 years (figures from the Corte dei Conti, 2018).
The road crosses 34 different municipalities in which 3000 expropriations took place, including more than 892 ha of farmland lost under concrete and asphalt in pursuit of an unparalleled act of planning deregulation. Among those experiencing the forced purchases were many owners of small areas of arable land for whom the land now has a purely monetary value: they are the heirs of a peasant society in the Veneto in which the land meant toil and hardship, who rose into the middle class during the years of Christian Democrat government when the mechanisms of social mobility still functioned. But the expropriations also affected many enterprising and hardworking farmer/producers who have worked this land to produce Bassano’s famous white asparagus, the cherries of Marostica, radicchio from Treviso and Castelfranco, extravirgin olive oil from Grappa, cheeses including Casatella Trevigiana and Grana Padano – to name but a few: products that are sold and appreciated around the world. These farmer/producers have seen part of their businesses, and indeed their lives, taken away from them without adequate or timely compensation, in the name of a civil engineering project regarded as essential to resolve the longest Traffic Emergency in history… 7 years! This Emergency was declared on 31 July 2009 through a decree issued by the then Prime Minister, with the nomination of an ad hoc commissioner.
Landscapes of farmland and foothills designated as Special Protection Zones have been devastated by excavations for the bypass tunnel in Vallugana, Vicenza province; the worksite of the Malo tunnel was seized following the death of a Sicilian workman when excavations led to a collapse; while the area where the Poscola stream rises has been turned into an open scar. This 50-year story has ended in a decade of political debates, protests, public meetings and transformations of the landscape, the result of powerful electoral and special interest pressures on local politicians, which has led to the area of building land available in their communities increasing 5 or even 50 times (2018 Salata and O. Borsato). The human cost has been high: a son has taken his own life, a father had a heart attack after seeing 10,000 sq m of olive trees ripped out, after decades of resistance; some have suffered depression and others have fallen ill, while some have grown rich through speculating on the land around the 14 toll booths, which were designated as areas of strategic development by regional law! Expropriations and the further break up of traditional farms have inflicted deep wounds on the psyche and the society of this part of the Veneto, literally sweeping away the daily routines of many families and irreparably damaging this community with its roots in the Catholic-rural world, turning it into a denatured society, one that is ever less companionable, and with a growing problem of loneliness. The suicide rate in these areas has risen over the past 20 years, but no one dares talk about it.
It’s no coincidence that the first logistic outposts of multinationals such as Amazon have started to appear a few metres from the toll booths, while huge shopping centres with fancy names are in the planning stage, importing models of consumption and economic development that bear no relationship to the much talked-about ecological transition.
The case of “Montello Hill” at Montebelluna, in Treviso province, is typical: a shopping mall at the base of the Montello hill, currently being built just beyond the Montebelluna tollbooth, 25,000 square metres with 160 shops and parking for 2700. A place where the whole family can spend the day, dazzled by the lights of the shops, cafes, restaurants, entertained by special events, in an air-conditioned and energy-guzzling environment, in exchange for 1.5 million euros invested in the town centre of Montebelluna, 30% of which was requested in the form of assets ceded to the municipality in the form of an area of building land in the Sansovino car park (2021, F. Giuliano).
The first stretch of road was opened in November 2020, and in August 2021 there were just 6,000 vehicles a day over the 56 Km (figures from CoVePA, 2021), as opposed to the 21,000 stated in the Mattino di Padova newspaper on 1 August 2021 based on Pedeveneta’s official figures. Heavy vehicles continue to prefer the ordinary roads, clogging the Treviso-Vicenza state highway, partly because of the excessive cost, partly because the signage in some areas and close to the exit booths has not been completed and drivers who are not familiar with it end up getting lost, especially on the Vicenza section of the route.
It should be noted that the Pedeveneta, when finished, will require the construction of a further 63 km of complementary road upgrades so that it can be accessed by potential users resident in communities that are not on its direct route, resulting in additional soil sealing and land transformation. The authorities of the Veneto Region, by choosing to carry out this project come what may, has set out on a journey of no return that will place future generations in debt for the next 39 years.
Nora Emme of the Coordinamento Asolano e Castellana of the SIP Forum