January 16, 2020 / 9:32 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Atlantia motorway unit pledges to boost investment, maintenance spending

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By Francesca Landini

MILAN, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The motorway unit of infrastructure group Atlantia pledged to increase by 40% its spending on road maintenance in the next four years, as it tried to break a standoff with the Italian government over the future of its lucrative concession.

Autostrade per l’Italia, which is grappling with fallout from the deadly collapse of a motorway bridge it operated in 2018, said on Thursday it would spend 1.6 billion euros on highway upkeep under its new business plan to 2023.

In the four-year plan, Autostrade also earmarked new investments for 5.4 billion euros, up from 2.1 billion it spent in the previous four years.

The company risks losing its lucrative motorway concession after the 2018 bridge disaster, which claimed 43 lives.

Prominent members of the Italian government have harshly criticised Autostrade for poor upkeep of the 3,000 km of roads it operates and insist it should be stripped of its concession.

They also said the company had benefited from a too generous system to calculate road tolls.

The company risks going belly up if the concession is revoked ahead of it 2038 deadline without compensation, the chief executive of Autostrade said recently.

“We will set up an artificial intelligence platform with IBM to monitor 1,943 motorway bridges and viaducts of our network,” the company, 88% owned by Atlantia, said in a statement.

In the new business plan, the company also said it would hire 1,000 people in the next four years to enhance the security of its network.

On Wednesday two sources told Reuters that Atlantia, which is controlled by the Benetton family, was ready to reopen talks with the government on road tolls to try to mend fences with Rome.

On Thursday Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government would not discuss whether to strip Autostrade of its motorway concession at a cabinet meeting on Friday, suggesting there could be some time for emergency talks with the company. (Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by Tom Brown)

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