For people on the 6:00 AM shift, the alarm goes off before 5:30 AM. You eat something and then take the shuttle to the construction site. Only a small number of workers, technicians and engineers can go together, so that safety distances are respected. Everyone has to wait their turn.
Once you arrive at the construction site, everyone puts on their masks and gets their temperature checked, which is repeated every time they go in and out of the reinforced steel cages that travel 40 meters into the sky.
In all, more than 200 workers come and go each day at the worksite to build the new Genoa Bridge, where they carry on almost as normal while Italy fights Covid-19, one of the toughest battles in its long history. A battle against an invisible enemy that has forced millions of citizens to stay at home, and blocked the activity of thousands of businesses.
Voices from the Bridge - The podcast series dedicated to the new Genoa Bridge
The worksite that never stops
Even during this health emergency, Genoa has shown it is the “worksite that never stops.” Hundreds of people (1,000 at peak times) are racing to finish the bridge that will replace the Morandi, which collapsed in August 2018. The work is now entering its final phase, which calls for “dressing” the deck.
To get to this point, however, “took us months and months of intense work,” admits Ercole Biella, Concreting Manager at Cossi Costruzioni (a unit of Salini Impregilo group, which is one of the companies rebuilding the bridge).
“I remember the first day we arrived, the bridge still needed to be demolished,” he recalls. “I felt like a little baby bird in the middle of all this.”
“All this” was the massive construction site, where the destruction of what was left of the old Morandi bridge went hand in hand with the preparation of the new bridge’s foundations.
“Our work consists of the excavations, preparing the foundations for the piers, then laying the concrete, for which I am responsible,” he explains.
The organisation and speed of the concrete casting operations made it possible to finish the bridge’s 18 piers in under six months. Looking at the finished piers today, Biella says: “I feel like smiling when I think of all our hard work and the night shifts. Now when I think about it, I get a happy satisfied feeling, like how you feel when you work together to reach a goal.”
Along with Biella, workers covered shifts for seven days a week, day and night.
“One of the images that remains imprinted in my mind is of workmen shut inside a van waiting for the end of the pouring rain so they could get out and continue laying the concrete,” says Francesco Poma, engineer of Salini Impregilo and project manager of the bridge. “It’s one of those images that says more than words ever can about the dedication and commitment to this construction site.“
Workers of the new Genoa bridge: the role of young people
Dedication and commitment are ageless. Actually, they are nourished when the passion of youth is added to the experience of age. Many young engineers and technicians have worked on the bridge’s building site. Young people like Paolo Albergante, a 29-year-old engineer, who is an assistant to the site manager. “As soon as I earned my degree in civil engineering,” he says, “I was lucky enough to join Salini Impregilo.”
Albergante was part of the group of 100 engineers hired by Salini Impregilo as part of a programme to develop future talent.
“More than a job, this is a calling,” he says. “I remember the day we commemorated the anniversary of the bridge’s collapse, for example. That’s when I understood that I was participating in something very special that we must complete as soon as possible.”
Simona Olcese, a Genoese engineer called to work in quality control at the construction site ten days after graduating, feels the same sense of responsibility.
“I’m from Genoa, and I chose to study engineering because I liked the idea of doing something that could be useful to others,” she says. “Here at the construction site I’m happy to make my contribution because I feel I’m doing something really important for my city.”
Participating all together in a common challenge is the most widespread feeling at the worksite.
“There are many personal stories,” says Nicola Meistro, an engineer at Salini Impregilo and CEO of PerGenova (the company set up by Salini Impregilo and Fincantieri to build the bridge). “There are people who use the new bridge as their profile picture in WhatsApp. Well, these are small things that don’t usually happen. Although I must say that anyone who works on a big project is always deeply attached to what they do. In this case even more so, because we feel like the whole country, and perhaps even beyond, is watching us. And you can feel it.”
A close-knit group racing against time
The sense of belonging and passion that hundreds of people have put into getting this job done is fueled not only by the awareness that Genoa is a different worksite from all the others, but also the knowledge that Salini Impregilo has borrowed best practices from its large construction sites around the world. This is what Salini Impregilo CEO Pietro Salini calls “fast tracking,” or the ability of carrying out several jobs together.
This was achieved by involving all of the professionals on construction of the work from the very start, applying a project execution model at the Genoa worksite that had been seldom used in Italy.
“The first challenge was to create a tight-knit team made up of the right people in the right place,” explains Poma. “And as a team, we concentrated on planning each activity to the maximum, with an advanced project management method aimed at minimizing all the risks that could possibly have an impact on our extremely competitive reconstruction process.”
With two months to go, that team is now busy completing the bridge’s deck, on the last mile of a marathon where they are all winners.