By Nick Squires in Rome
Critics say that at six billion euros (£5.4bn), the cost of the two-and-a-half mile bridge across the Strait of Messina is far too high and have questioned the wisdom of building such a giant span in a region which is prone to earthquakes.
Some engineers have given warning that the area's huge pylons would be vulnerable to high winds.
"It's true that it costs six billion euros but this is the project and we're not going back on it," Altero Matteoli, the public works minister, told Italian radio.
He acknowledged that it would be essential to improve the ramshackle roads and railways on either side of the bridge, in Sicily and the mainland region of Calabria.
"The bridge will oblige us to improve railway and motorway infrastructure as well as the ports. It's an enormous amount of work that will also increase tourism."
The project, which Mr Matteoli said could get underway this year, was first envisioned by Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, when he was in office in 2001-2006, but then ditched by his centre-left successor, Romano Prodi, amid concerns that it would mostly benefit construction firms run by the mafia.
Mr Prodi's administration labelled it a vanity project and "the most useless and harmful plan of the past 100 years."
Mr Berlusconi was re-elected prime minister last year and put the project back on track.
He insists that it will create thousands of jobs, boost tourism and improve transport links between the 'toe' of the Italian mainland and Sicily, replacing ferry services.
The bridge would be able to handle nearly 5,000 cars an hour as well as high-speed trains.
The dream of building a bridge across the narrow strait was first envisioned by the Romans and later considered by Sicily's Norman rulers.Original here