Milan-based contractor Salini Impregilo S.p.A. has accepted an informal challenge by Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, to complete a long stalled contract to build a record-breaking suspension bridge over the Messina Strait, between the mainland and Sicily.

But with contractors’ compensation claims exceeding $785 million still in dispute for work before the project was halted, prospects for the estimated $4.4-billion bridge remain shaky. The bridge’s 3,300-meter-long main span would be nearly 40% longer than Japan’s current world record-holder, the Akashi Kaikyo bridge.

Salini Impregilo reports Renzi’s public offer to support the project’s revival as long as the contractors “are in condition to show us that your papers are in order and can unblock what has been halted for 10 years.” Renzi was speaking at the contractor’s 110th founding anniversary celebrations in Milan on Sept. 27.

Group Chief Executive Pietro Salini informally accepted Renzi’s challenge. But after the celebrations, a spokesman clarified the company’s position. “For the moment, we are still trying to get the government to pay the penalty for having annulled the contract,” he said.

The project floundered three years ago, when a turnkey contract with the Eurolink construction consortium hit an impasse. The multifirm consortium was led by Impregilo S.p.A before its merger with Salini S.p.A.

Signed in 2006 by state-owned project firm Stretto di Messina S.p.A., the turnkey contract almost immediately was suspended when then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was voted out of office. Work resumed in 2009, after Berlusconi’s return, but halted again following his electoral defeat in late 2011.

Under the project’s original contract, Eurolink completed detailed designs by July 2011, supported by Copenhagen-based Cowi A.S.

But when the new government attempted to renegotiate the deal, in 2012 Eurolink pulled out and initiated legal action that continues to rumble on.