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Finding an alternative route

The area where the Lija trees used to lie is now bare. Photo: Jonathan Borg

The area where the Lija trees used to lie is now bare. Photo: Jonathan Borg

It seems our newly wedded and newly crowned Minister for Transport wants to show us just how much he has rolled up his sleeves and got down to business.

Either that or some EU funds are about to expire.

Whichever it is, Ian Borg has decided that now is the time to start digging, scraping and tarmacking all of Malta’s roads.

At least that is the sense of it judging by the flurry of comments on Facebook.

There is one sign which has proved particularly irksome according to reports on social media. It suggests, nay demands, that one ‘finds alternative routes’ and it has proved as annoying as it is unhelpful.

I got held up by one on the way into Mqabba coming from Siġġiewi the other night. I thought, that’s funny, I didn’t notice any road works going on when I left the village at 7pm.

So, seeing that this was the only way into the village I took a chance, girded my loins, if not my car wheels, and proceeded to disregard the stern warning.

Sure enough, the stretch of road by the airport runway was free of traffic (it was past midnight at the time), and more importantly free of road works. I did come across another similar sign on the other side of the runway but by then I could slip in down a side road and into the village.

Meanwhile on the other side of the village, near the roundabout leading to the airport, there are more extensive roadworks aimed at relieving the traffic congestion. In that particular spot.

Just like what happened in Lija, (where a whole bunch of trees were hacked down mercilessly), the solution to the problem was to grab more green space (in this case open fields) to widen the roads.

In the case of the airport roundabout, the final difference will be less noticeable.

But not so the case of the Lija trees. Their removal is going to have a detrimental effect on the residents’ health in the area. Those trees not only sucked up a lot of the pollution generated in that valley, they also acted as a noise buffer for all the traffic passing through.

It has been shown time and time again that traffic is like water, the wider the canal, the larger the quantity of water that comes through until it returns to the same level and speed it was before.

This is as predictable as it is obvious. For the first few months, traffic congestion will ease as the same amount of traffic passes through. As word gets around that traffic congestion has eased, more drivers will opt for that route until the same level of congestion is reached once again.

The problem with short term fixes is short term results.

The problem with short term fixes is, of course, short term results.

So I was very surprised to hear the Prime Minister last week talking about future-proofing Malta.

Putting aside the hyperbole and hot air of the statement, what Malta really needs to do is to get up to speed and not future-proof.

The transport solutions are a case in point.

There is yet no talk of improving the public transport system. Try catching a bus to the university or the hospital from your town and see how long that takes. And nary a word about other forms of public transport.

Meanwhile as the UK has set a target of banning diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040, ditto France (Norway goes one step further and has created a 2025 deadline - that’s seven-and-a-half years from now!), Malta’s Planning Authority has greenlit an application to set up a new petrol station half a kilometre down the road from an existing one.

So my question is, if three of our European neighbours (two of them important car manufacturers) have already declared switching to electric, (how long before Germany follows suit?), what plans has our government in hand to prepare for the inevitable switch-over? What plans are in place to increase the number of charging points? What about the amount of electricity needed to charge the car batteries?

Ever so sorry, I forgot to say: the government has extended the subsidy on electric cars after the current €150,000 grant was taken up. So you can expect to see an extra, count ‘em, 30 more electric cars on the road this year.

If the PM is interested in future-proofing Malta, he should perhaps find an alternative route.

 

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