The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy August 16, 2018.
The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy August 16, 2018. Reuters / Stefano Rellandini

A trial of 59 people, including former Atlantia CEO Giovanni Castellucci, over the deadly collapse of a motorway bridge in Genoa opens on Thursday in front of relatives of the victims in the Italian port city.

Likely to last more than a year, the trial will take place in the largest hall in the Genoa court, while a marquee with video screens has been set up outside to accommodate hundreds more members of the public and journalists who want to attend.

The road bridge, operated by Atlantia's motorway unit Autostrade per l'Italia (Aspi), collapsed at the peak of the summer holiday season on Aug. 14, 2018, killing 43 people and laying bare the state of Italy's crumbling infrastructure.

Prosecutors have compiled a list of 178 witnesses, including Aspi's current CEO Roberto Tomasi and two former infrastructure ministers whom they want to call.

Legal sources said that many of the lawyers for the defendants, who have always denied all charges, dispute the findings of an expert report into the causes of the collapse that took a year to compile. They could ask the court to annul the report and to commission a new one.

"The trial is expected to be long and complex," said Egle Possetti, spokesperson for the victims' relatives committee, who lost her sister, brother-in-law and two nephews in the collapse.

"We hope that there will be no loopholes to interrupt the thread of truth and justice that has already emerged in the investigation," she added.

Judge Paola Faggioni, who in April ordered the trial, has also accepted a financial settlement proposed by Autostrade and its sister company SPEA to close the case against them.

Giovanni Paolo Accinni, a lawyer for Castellucci, said after the indictment decision in April that the accusations against his client would "fall away like an autumn leaf".

The charges against Castellucci include endangering safety on the roads and wilful failure to take precautions to prevent disasters. The criminal code provides for a maximum sentence of 15 years if convicted.

The collapse caused a dispute between Atlantia, controlled by the Benetton family, and the government that ended last year with the sale of Atlantia's controlling stake in Autostrade.

In a document seen by Reuters on the findings of the investigation into the disaster, prosecutors said last year that the collapse was triggered by the rupture of the load-bearing cables inside the stay of the bridge's ninth pillar, which were eaten away by a highly corrosive atmosphere over the 51 years of the bridge's life.