Bridging the gap - Franco Mercieca
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Bridging the gap - Franco Mercieca

Last week the Gozo Tourism Association publicly declared that it is in favour of a permanent link between Malta and Gozo but not as being implemented. It stated that it would prefer a mass transport system rather than an open road for cars.  

I don’t think that there’s anybody in Malta who would not agree with the concept of an underground system for the Maltese islands. With a booming economy and an ever-increasing population, the challenges on infrastructure will continue to heighten. Having an underground system, as most of us have experienced abroad, would definitely be the holy grail in tackling the traffic challenges for good.  

However, in reality, such plans ‒ if there are any ‒ are still under wraps and the prospects of having such method of transport in Malta in the near future are bleak, as the plans and costs involved would be astronomical. 

Therefore, to have a monorail now between Malta and Gozo would obviously imply that the monorail will have to start somewhere in Gozo and in Malta and thus come above ground with the consequential building of a station on either end with the adjacent parking areas and bus depot. 

The environmental take-up for such stations would be very significant and Gozitans would still have to plan the rest of their journey on either side. A monorail would positively affect the unpredictability of the transportation but not necessarily so for the travelling time. 

Apart from the environmental and visual impact such stations would have, the cost of such a project would be at least five to 10 times higher than the current tunnel project which is being implemented, as apart from boring a tunnel one has to purchase the trains.

The impetus of the current tunnel project started back in 2010, which under the previous administration saw a pre-feasibility study being carried out by Mott McDonald. This was boosted by the economic cost benefit analysis that was instigated by the Gozo Business Chamber, which was taken on by the current administration, followed by all the necessary geological, bathymetric and seismic studies, fluid seepage survey, social impact assessment and market research. 

Gozitans do not need handouts and political favours but equal opportunities... this tunnel project guarantees just that

The environmental impact assessment is at an advanced stage and we should have the final conceptual design in the coming weeks. This would lead us to a situation that we can test the market for prospective bidders to design, build, maintain and operate such a project.  

In a nutshell this project is well advanced into implementation stage and changing the plans now to a totally different project would mean that all this work would have to be scrapped and started afresh.  

The discussion on how to connect the islands happened a few years ago and important decisions on the way forward were taken then. However, it seems that some individuals were under the impression that all the press releases, statements and support on this project from various entities were gimmicks. 

Now these same people are starting to believe that this tunnel project is for real. 

Waiting for an underground transport system for the Maltese islands would mean that we have to wait for at least another generation to see the establishment of a permanent link.  

In the meantime, Gozo and Gozitans, of whom 85 per cent are in favour of such a project, cannot wait any longer. Gozitan families are leaving Gozo for better pastures as evidenced by the demographic data of an ageing population, shrinking primary schoolchildren and decreasing birth rate in Gozo. 

Over the years there have been many attempts by successive governments to revive the Gozitan economy and time has proved that they were all short-lived.  

Gozitans have a disability which some are comfortable with and even take advantage of and others strive hard to overcome it. Shrugging off the second-class citizen mentality is not easy but I’m quite sure that a tunnel as being implemented would give a huge positive boost to all aspects of life in Gozo as the education and employment opportunities will be for once the same as our Maltese counterparts.  

Unfortunately, lots of people in leading roles over the years have embraced the second-class citizen mentality and only worked hard to alleviate the difficulties Gozitans have, in order to survive. An open road connecting the islands is our cure.  

Gozitans do not need handouts and political favours but equal opportunities... this tunnel project guarantees just that.

Franco Mercieca is chairman of the Malta-Gozo tunnel steering committee.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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