The Brenner Motorway: a 60-year-long story

From the project, which for many times, was delayed, to when it was built: the A22 stands out for its Safety and Innovation.

Over 31 kilometres of bridges and viaducts, 147 underpasses and 30 galleries. The A22 Motorway connecting Modena to the Brenner Pass - and therefore the Po valley to Austria - winds for 314 kilometres through four different regions, crossing Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna.

The Brenner Motorway is a winding one. With its two lanes per carriageway in each direction, it represents 5% of the Italian motorway network: in fact, on this alpine road, 43 thousand vehicles transit each day.

This year, the A22 Brenner Motorway is blowing its 60 candles. It was in fact in 1959, on February 20, that the Trentino-Alto Adige Region, the local bodies and the relevant Chambers of Commerce, met to create the company that would have completed this important and significant project. All this happened while the Italian State thought that the Brenner Motorway was something unimportant and not urgent, leaving the works and funding for the work in the hands of the local bodies.

Works on the Brenner Motorway began five years after the ones for the "Autostrada del Sole" motorway. It is, in some way, a pioneering project, which to this day still shines for its innovation. One must consider that, in 2019, the Italian motorway network still does not allow electric vehicles to carry out long distance journeys, due to a lack of infrastructure, while the A22 can boast having 43 recharging columns, of various types - from Modena to the Brenner Pass - which, among other things, are also free to use.

The A22: Its Story

The story of the Brenner Motorway includes many negotiations and conflicts with Rome and the Iri. It tells of ambitious projects and continuous struggles with ice, with the swampy ground and with landslides. To this day, many engineers visit specific places of the A22, starting from the Colle Isarco viaduct. One must not forget that, when building engineering works like this one, oftentimes, a lot of people get injured. For the Brenner Motorway, we are speaking of 36 fatal accidents among the workers.

Everything began in 1959: at that time, in Northern Italy and in the rest of Europe, only modest roads existed, so every journey inevitably became an important one. In the 50's, Trentino-Alto Adige was a farming region, even poorer than the nearby ones. For obvious historical reasons, a pro-European attitude could still be seen. In fact, in 1952, the Regional Council presented projects for the soon-to-be Brenner Motorway. Still, the Italian State was thinking of something else at that time. When, in 1955, the Romita Statute Law passed, it gave way to the first Italian motorway network. So, the alpine motorway was simply delayed to a future date.

Fortunately, this did not halt those that saw the Brenner Motorway as a real development possibility: in fact, it is to be noted that, in the first years of the 50's, tourists started to pass over the Brenner Pass, once more, to visit Italy. Therefore, in 1959, the Company that built the Brenner A22 Motorway was founded, in spite of the fact that the concession from the Italian State had not yet been given. The latter finally arrived in 1961. Still, it not bring many smiling faces with it, due to the fact that the Italian State only provided 3.25% for the Brenner-Verona section and 0.5% for the Verona to Modena tract.

The project, in spite of this, started to take shape. When, in 1962, Iri, once again confirmed its idea that the A22 was not a priority, the "Società Autostrade del Brennero A22" decided that it would provide for itself, accepting an unprecedented financial challenge, which allowed it to balance the accounts only in 1984. The foundation stone was placed in 1964 at Lavis, a few kilometres north of Trento, even before the needed payments had arrived. Four years later, the first section was opened, between Trento and Bolzano. It was December 21, 1968. A strong snow storm inaugurated the project. In 1974, works were completed. The most technically complex part, between Bolzano Sud and Chiusa had ended successfully. From that moment onwards, the Company's main objective was to balance its accounts, a very hard journey that would last 10 years.

Works were not easy to carry out. In fact, to guarantee an inclination lower than 4% - on a section with a 1,300 m drop - many viaducts had to be built. Concomitantly, to maximize safety, the construction of tunnels longer than 1 kilometre was avoided. Besides the engineering challenges brought by the project, there were also the environmental ones, and the fact that works had to be carried out on unstable ground and, often with temperatures that reached 17 degrees below zero.

The Brenner Motorway, Today

Even the most distracted visitor, once on the A22, would easily notice that he had taken the Brenner Motorway. The first thing that one notices, before anything else, is the presence of the specific typically brown Corten steel guard-rails. This particular metal alloy is very resistant, both in terms of corrosion and in mechanical ones. It also has a reduced impact on the surrounding scenery.

During the 80's, the Brenner Motorway was made safer thanks to the draining asphalt, the widening of the emergency lanes, the prohibition to take over regarding lorries and heavy vehicles, the illumination, the numerous emergency stop areas, and the increase of mobility assistants (80, to this day). Results speak for themselves: during the last twenty years, the number of accidents halved.

Safety is also guaranteed by the continuous maintenance works carried out on the infrastructure. The main threat comes from using huge amounts of defrosting salt that guarantees an optimal road surface even in the Alpine regions, something that clearly creates many problems, especially for viaducts. And, this is why, after 40 years of service, the most complex work of the entire section - the Colle Isarco viaduct – underwent important renovation and maintenance works. We are speaking of a structure with a length exceeding 1 km, supported by 12 piers that reach 87 metres in height, and that is organized into 13 spans (the longest of which reaches 163 metres).

In 2018, the Brenner Motorway registered a transit of 72.7 million vehicles. If one considers, the extreme usage that it is put through, this structure doesn't look 60 at all!