The Malta Independent 23 September 2018, Sunday

Marsa should have 7 lanes when school starts, 10 by October – Infrastructure Malta CEO

Jeremy Micallef Sunday, 9 September 2018, 08:30 Last update: about 14 days ago

Malta’s infrastructure has always been in the spotlight, for better or worse. Jeremy Micallef talks to Infrastructure Malta CEO Fredrick Azzopardi about the €700 million worth of upgrades and maintenance, and the possibility of finally reducing traffic congestion

In 2017, Joseph Muscat said that the infrastructure is Malta’s Achilles Heel. Do you think that is accurate?

I think that the responsibility given to Infrastructure Malta is no small matter. In accordance with the electoral commitment made by the government, we have a mandate to complete various projects, and to raise the standard of our infrastructure, which has not increased in line with the economy. As Infrastructure Malta, we have the responsibility for upgrading it.

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With regard to projects that have already been completed, such as the Kappara Junction, what has the overall impact on traffic been?

When you have projects like that of Kappara, which was a TEN-T road funded by the European Union, it includes a variety of studies including a cost-benefit analysis, traffic count and predictions for reduction in CO2 emissions.

Although we have upgraded and seen improvements in the area, you still find people getting held up in traffic near Paceville, or the University.

Unfortunately, it is not a question of doing everything at once, but we do have a plan. This is comparable to having a chain and adding links to it periodically. With regard to choosing the next project to be undertaken, we have adopted a concept whereby we measure the travelling times on arterial roads and the number of bottlenecks, and with that information we can prioritise.

In fact, a road that has been mentioned a lot in the media – Triq tal-Balal – had been identified by our experts as a priority road that must receive attention. It’s not only a matter of there being a problem with that particular road, but the fact that upgrading tal-Balal will reduce certain traffic problems we are having in other routes and localities, such as the Birkirkara Bypass.

 

Speaking of Triq tal-Balal, work on it is being carried out with the permit having yet to be approved.

Our original plan was always for this to eventually be upgraded to a 2+2-lane road, but instead we decided to start on a 2+1-lane so that we could provide the public with something by October.

After beginning the work, and holding meetings with stakeholders and local businesses, we decided to add to the plans for this road. One point that was often brought up was the fact that many people walk along this road, so one of the things we decided to do was to add a pavement along its entire length.

To get to your point regarding the permit, with the original plans for a 2+1-lane road, we would not have taken up a large amount of land, so the type of permit we needed required less documentation for submission. Therefore, we would have been on time, or almost, for the permit to be issued.

It is without a doubt an important road, the upgrading is urgently needed and we think it will provide considerable benefits.

 

With schools about to open, and considering that the Marsa Project is still ongoing, will the area be able to cope with the increased traffic?

The Marsa Project was divided into three phases. Phase 1 was the demolition of the factories, which was completed earlier this year. Phase 2 was laying the majority of the utilities, rebuilding Triq il-Gvern Lokali and widening Aldo Moro Road. We are intending that this will be completed before the beginning of the scholastic year.

By the end of October, Aldo Moro Road will be composed of six lanes on one side and four lanes on the other, whilst the six-lane side will narrow to four lanes as it joins Triq Dicembru 13 and the Marsa-Hamrun Bypass. We are working to try to complete a four-lane northbound and three-lane southbound road by the time the scholastic year begins. The other three lanes will be open soon after, which means that traffic will be able to flow more freely.

We are also in talks regarding timeframes with the Turkish contractors, Ayhanlar, who were awarded the 3rd phase contract, including the construction of the seven flyovers.

Had we not divided up the project, we would have only begun working on it now. A substantial part of the project, about 25 per cent, will be completed before the actual flyovers are built. While we were studying this, we realised that if we didn’t intervene as we did, we would have been left with tailbacks affecting Marsa.

The surrounding roads also need upgrading. They are being rebuilt through a separate project (Triq Dicembru 13, Marsa-Hamrun Bypass), so we are hoping that, at the end of the month, we will be able to open them again to the public.

 

Apart from these major projects, when it comes to smaller roads in residential areas, how do you co-operate with local councils?

In parallel with the large projects that everyone can see, we are also working on a number of other roads. For example, we are working on rural roads, where we can make use of EU funds. We have also had to use some national funds to rebuild other nearby rural roads to connect some of these routes.

We are also working on a number of residential roads, and are going to announce work on substantial number of roads in many localities.

During the last few years, local councils have been asked which roads they would like to have prioritised for maintenance and with our list, together with constant communication with the councils, we will be able to announce the roads on which we will be working on. Our scheme is not a case of planning for one year, and then we’ll see. Instead, we will be constantly announcing which roads are to be rebuilt, whilst also giving priority to roads that have never before been asphalted.

 

We hear a lot about plans to upgrade Malta’s roads. Are there any plans to upgrade Gozo’s infrastructure?

We have begun discussions with the Minister for Gozo and, in the coming weeks, we will be announcing initiatives for Gozo. The massive infrastructure plan we have concerns both Malta and Gozo.

One project on which we are working as Infrastructure Malta is that of the tunnel between Malta and Gozo. We are currently carrying out studies and preparing tender documents, and I think that it will not be long before we will be able to release interesting updates on the project. Apart from the actual tenders for the building of the tunnel, we will also be announcing how it will be operated.

 

In the past we have heard many complaints about the quality of the material used to build and surface our roads. Has this been looked into?

There is no doubt that one thing that has to be improved on is the quality. In recent months we have even re-done roads that did not reach a certain standard, and I can say that we are in discussions with companies who may be able to help. Today we have technical specifications that have been in place for over 20 years, and it is very much time that we updated them.

Wherever a road has been re-done, it has been at the expense of the contractor.

 

Apart from roads, what else falls under the remit of Infrastructure Malta?

We are now legally responsible for arterial roads and we also have a role in major capital projects such as the tunnel between Malta and Gozo. We are also in discussions with Transport Malta so that infrastructural projects such as maritime-related work become our responsibility.The most important thing is that we have a smooth transition.

 

How is the €700 million pledged during the last general election being granted to Infrastructure Malta?

Up until now we have been using the National Fund which, in previous years, amounted to around €13-15 million and which this year has been topped up to €40 million. Even though the €700 million is not yet being used, the government has recognised that up until the Infrastructure Malta law had been passed earlier this summer, and related discussions were had, we could not be working at a certain rate and then suddenly find ourselves with that large amount of money and start working at an increased rate.

We are holding discussions with the Finance Ministry and I can say that there is already a substantial amount of money being considered for next year, the first year of the seven. The announcement of the next budget is not very far away, so I am sure that in the coming weeks the Finance Minister will announce the total amount to be allocated to Infrastructure Malta.

Whilst I personally am not satisfied with the amount of work being done, we are slowly ramping up to the right amount of output, and the government is supporting us financially, so at this point we do not have any issues with funding. We must also remember that the EU has certain funds which can be tapped to increase our budget and allow us to deliver more important projects.

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