Serious tunnel vision flaws - Maria Grazia Cassar

Serious tunnel vision flaws - Maria Grazia Cassar

The odds at stake with this project are too big to mess up

More light needs to be shed on this talk of a tunnel. Photo: Shutterstock

More light needs to be shed on this talk of a tunnel. Photo: Shutterstock

A Gozo-Malta tunnel is on everyone’s lips at the moment, with much speculation on the environmental and social impact it will have. There have also been many suggestions of alternatives and variations on the subject by the public and people in the know and it is understandable that there cannot be complete consensus about it.

Din l-Art Ħelwa is certain about one thing, however: the problems that Gozitans face are considerable and something must be done to address them.

The government, however, has a duty to convince us that the route it is taking is the best solution and will, in fact, solve the problems it promises to address.

There has not been any information regarding the new journey times through this proposed tunnel, which has doubled in length since the 2015 cost/benefit analysis carried out for the Gozo Business Chamber and Transport Malta and was based on an eight-kilometre stretch.

How many vehicles are estimated to go through it every hour and how much will the toll be?

When the commuters exit at l-Imbordin, how long will it take them to arrive at their destination, be it at work, Valletta or the airport?

And, most importantly, what are the alternatives available?

Answers to the above questions are vital to arrive at a transparent, reasoned decision that everyone will accept as the best option for our country.

The problems that Gozitans face are considerable and something must be done to address them

At the moment, all we have been told is that tender documents have been written and that the estimated cost of the project, at €300 million (in the E-Cubed analysis), is based on the eight-kilometre stretch only and does not include the lengthy exit and entry portals.

Read: Valletta to Gozo in 30 minutes? 

The Transport Malta (2016) National Transport Strategy 2050 and National Master Plan 2025 mention the Gozo-Malta subsea road tunnel only by excluding it because it is still “at the feasibility study stage”. Surely, it is imperative that the feasibility study, which has been carried out, is incorporated in the above-mentioned Transport Malta studies before the project goes any further.

The tunnel cannot and must not be seen in isolation from the transport strategy of Malta as a whole. This is extremely worrying, all the more so when it appears that the proposal of a Malta-Gozo road tunnel is in direct conflict with the principles of this strategy and master plan, that is “The creation of a modal shift away from the private car” and “The protection of the distinctiveness of Gozo’s settlements, cultural and natural environment to support the implementation of Eco-Gozo’s initiative”.

A tunnel to Gozo is not even mentioned in the relevant local plans. Is it too much to ask that these long-awaited updates are concluded before more decisions are made without any public consultation?

Din l-Art Ħelwa’s position is clear. The Gozitans and the Maltese have a right to know and be convinced whether this is the best solution in the light of all possible alternatives.

Whether the money spent on this tunnel will be money well spent and not a white elephant.

Whether alternatives, such as a light rail from Ċirkewwa to the airport and other stops, might perhaps be a better solution that will benefit commuters from Gozo and reduce traffic problems in Malta too.

Whether a preferred option would be a smaller tunnel with a high-speed train rather than a subsea road tunnel, thus avoiding the lengthy entrance and exit portals and the destruction of more of Malta and Gozo’s diminishing pristine natural land.

Whether the promised loss of ‘double insularity’ status for Gozo will not be an economical suicide which is best avoided.

Whatever the answers, we call on the government to shoulder its responsibility and give them to us in a transparent and well-reasoned way.

The odds at stake are too big to mess up and our country is too small to absorb the enormity of the economic and environmental consequences unless they are sensitively thought out and are in the best interest of all.

Really, something must be done but let us do it well.

Maria Grazia Cassar is executive president of Din l-Art Ħelwa.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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