Italy’s longest-running public works project, a motorway running through its empoverished southern Calabria region, was due to be inaugurated Thursday, some 54 years after construction began.

The inauguration date was set 10 months ago by former premier Matteo Renzi, who made meeting the deadline a question of national pride. There is however widespread scepticism on whether the infrastructure is ready.

Public highways agency ANAS describes the 443-kilometre Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway as an engineering marvel, comprising 190 tunnels and 480 bridges, viaducts and flyovers cutting across mountainous terrain.

The motorway should have been completed by 1972. It was fully opened to traffic in 1974, except for a 1-kilometre section damaged by a landslide that remained a bottleneck until 2014. Other sections have required radical upgrades in recent years.

Local newspaper Corriere della Calabria published a video on the weekend showing several one-lane traffic restrictions and strict speed limits, suggesting that the motorway still needs significant work.

“I am not quite sure what is there to inaugurate: it’s not finished,” Michele Gigliotti, a lawyer from the city of Catanzaro who regularly uses the motorway, told dpa. “I hope we won’t see just another empty ribbon-cutting exercise,” he added.

The ceremony is due to start at 4:30 pm (1530 GMT).

Trade unionists have suggested that the motorway will not be totally finished before 2018. A spokeswoman for ANAS insisted that it is completed, and that works planned in the coming months are just regular maintenance.

Calabria could do with better infrastructure. The region that forms the tip of Italy’s boot, it is the nation’s poorest and is plagued by its local ‘Ndrangheta Mafia, one of the world’s top cocaine smugglers.

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