Top US architect Daniel Libeskind is to design the starting-off point for a planned bridge connecting mainland Italy to Sicily across the Strait of Messina, the general contractor announced today. Libeskind will style the nerve centre of the bridge's future complex on the Calabrian side of the strait. Speaking alongside the US architect at a press conference in Rome, Ciucci said Libeskind's participation in the project would "open new scenarios" for the complex, which will house hotels, a shopping mall, a convention centre and exhibition spaces. The architect, who is currently working on the Ground Zero site in Manhattan, will also give a new look to the coastline where the bridge will be anchored, Ciucci said. The Stretto di Messina company aims to start work on the bridge later this year and hopes to open the bridge to traffic in 2017. Aside from the bridge itself, it entails over 40km of road and rail construction. The definitive project must now be approved by the public works ministry, before it gets its final go-ahead from the interministerial economic planning commission CIPE. Supporters hail the bridge as a huge job-creation scheme that would give Italy's image a major boost while bringing Sicily closer to the mainland in both physical, psychological and social terms. But it has been opposed by environmentalists and dogged by concerns over its safety and fears of potential Mafia involvement. The 3,690-metre-long bridge has been designed to be able to handle 4,500 cars an hour and 200 trains a day and would replace slow ferry services between the island and the mainland.