The proposed tunnel below the seabed linking Malta and Gozo will have considerable negative impacts on both Gozo and Malta. The most obvious one is the generation of around one and a half million cubic metres of bits of rock which will be dumped into our seas, kick-starting another environmental nightmare, land reclamation. The construction lobby has run out of space to “develop” on land. The Environment and Resources Authority has already started identifying potential sites. The residents of Xgħajra have good reason to be up in arms.
The problems associated with the proposed tunnel are manifold. Agricultural land around the two points of exit of the proposed tunnel will be gobbled up: at Ta’ Kenuna on the outskirts of Nadur, and close to L-Għerien, on the periphery of Mellieħa and further along the Pwales valley. This agricultural land will make way for the roads and toll-control facilities leading to the tunnel. Then, they will inevitably be complemented by more petrol stations.
On the basis of what is known so far, it is already clear that on the Malta side the tunnel will be bored through or very close to the Miżieb aquifer, which is still in a very good state – the only one on the island so graded. This fact has been one of the determining issues leading to the abandonment of other large scale projects in the area (the golf-course and part of the TEN-T network).
One could also add that a substantial amount of traffic will be channelled very close to the Simar Nature Reserve in Xemxija. The resulting noise, light and air pollution will have a considerable negative impact on the reserve, especially at night, a time when nature seeks its resting time.
The problems generated by the proposed tunnel are substantial. There is, however, a reasonable solution to the connectivity issue.
Let me be clear: connectivity between the islands of Gozo and Malta needs considerable improvement. The proposed tunnel, however, is not the solution. The solution should be one which facilitates movement between the islands without creating more problems than we already have! In particular, we should avoid worsening the traffic problem. This can be done if the solution we seek is not one which increases our car dependency.
It is estimated that the proposed tunnel will increase average daily traffic movements between the two islands from the current 3,000 to a projected 9,000 – a threefold increase estimated over a fifteen-year period. One immediately understands the purpose of these projections referred to in the feasibility study commissioned jointly by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber in 2015. The toll to be charged – and, consequently, the tunnel’s economic performance – is dependent on generating the maximum traffic possible. Traffic underpins the very existence of the tunnel. This runs counter to the basic objective of the National Transport Master-Plan 2025 which in crystal clear language spells out the reduction of cars from our roads as the long-term objective of Malta’s National Transport Policy.
The solution needs to address the movement of people between the islands, not the movement of cars. The only reasonable solution would be the introduction of a fast-ferry service between Gozo and Malta, between Mġarr in Gozo and various points in Malta, which would include Xemxija, Sliema and Valletta. This should be linked to an improvement in the public transport links between these points and the rest of the country.
It is essential that we seek long-term solutions to our transport problems, such that we do not leave future generations burdened by our problems.
Published in the Malta Independent – Sunday 3 February