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Pre-feasibility study on Gozo tunnel proposal

The missing link... Is building a road under the seabed feasible? Photo shows the Gozo ferry terminal at Ċirkewwa. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The missing link... Is building a road under the seabed feasible? Photo shows the Gozo ferry terminal at Ċirkewwa. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

A pre-feasibility study has been commissioned on the proposed subsea tunnel between Malta and Gozo, which could be co-financed by the EU.

Transport Malta said it had “verbal confirmation” that the tunnel link between the islands would form part of the European Commission’s Ten-T, Trans-European Transport Network Executive Agency, and, therefore – “in theory” – would be eligible for EU co-financing under the Cohesion Fund.

It has been estimated that the construction of the three-lane tunnel across the channel – a proposal thrust into the limelight by Parliamentary Secretary Chris Said about two months ago – would cost €150 million.

But whether the idea of the permanent connection, which has been in the pipeline for decades, would take off has yet to be established and depends on the outcome of studies.

The pre-feasibility study would involve a high-level assessment before more detailed feasibility studies and should be completed towards the end of the year, TM said.

It is aimed at assessing the technical and economic feasibility of constructing a subsea road tunnel between Malta and Gozo but will not involve detailed geotechnical investigations, which are normally carried out at full-feasibility-study stage.

It would examine environmental issues, identify possible tunnel routing alignments and estimate costs of infrastructure and equipment, required in accordance with EU regulations on Ten-T tunnel safety, the transport regulator said.

The plan is for technical expertise to be provided through the Joint Assistance to Support Projects in European Regions, Jaspers, which helped in the preparation of major projects submitted for grant financing under the Structural and Cohesion Funds, TM said.

As for the next step after the pre-feasibility study was completed, it said “a decision would be taken, following consideration of the results”.

Dr Said, whose role was to get the ball rolling, said he was “satisfied” the process had started. He had stepped up the momentum when he called on the government to commission a financial and technical assessment of the project in February and maintained the tunnel was the “best solution”.

There was no need to rush things and carry out a study for the sake of it, he said, insisting what counted was that it was “good” and that nobody dragged their feet.

Asked why there was need for a pre-feasibility study before ­carrying out a study, Dr Said explained that establishing sensible, expert and comprehensive terms of ­reference was just as important.

Since the subject of an underwater connection between the islands surfaced, sparking a controversy between those who believe it is sorely needed, primarily Gozitans, and those who oppose it, specific subcommittees have been set up.

Infrastructure Minister Austin Gatt said yesterday the pre-feasibility study would be undertaken at the beginning of summer for “a good idea on whether it is worth exploring any further, or dropping it”.

The government was not waiting for the tunnel and the sea passenger terminal in Ċirkewwa was being developed to the tune of €12 million.

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