The Malta Independent 19 April 2019, Friday

Indepth: Underground mass transit studies at ‘advanced stage’ – Ian Borg

INDEPTH online Friday, 8 March 2019, 16:16 Last update: about 2 months ago

Call for tunnel tender to be released in coming works; to incorporate design, building, operation and maintenance

Studies being carried out by an international consortium commissioned by the government for an underground mass transit system are at a very advanced stage, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Ian Borg has said on the latest edition of Indepth.

Asked by The Malta Independent Editor-in-Chief Rachel Attard at what stage the government's plans for a rapid mass transit system were, Borg replied that the studies had been commissioned before he took the transport portfolio and that they were at a "very advanced stage". 

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He said that while his ministry was focusing on improving Malta's road network, these studies are ongoing and have only technical scrutiny from various institutions such as the Planning Authority and Lands Authority left.

This all being said, Borg noted that while, considering today's technology, it was definite that such a project could be done; its economic viability was another matter entirely.  The economic viability of such a project - taking into account how many people would use it and other such statistics - was still under discussion and would naturally have an impact on the final decision, Borg said.

He used Gozo as an example to this regard, saying that for a monorail between Malta and its sister island to be viable, Gozo's population would need to increase substantially - something which the government did not want to do.  Borg was reiterating what Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has already said around two weeks ago with regards to this subject.

Questioned therefore on what the point of the government's €700 million investment into the road network was if in a few years time it would all have to be uprooted again for a mass transit system, Borg replied that this was an unjust piece of criticism, and then confirmed that the mass transit system being studied was primarily underground, with stations incorporated into public squares or amalgamated into public gardens as is done abroad.

"Our road infrastructure will not be touched if we opt for an underground mass transit system," Borg said.

He also added that this mass transit project would be one that will take up to 25 years to complete, and that it takes courage for a government to embark on such a long term project. Borg justified the road network improvements, noting that people living in places such as St. Paul's Bay could not afford spend another 20 or so years with broken roads just because the country will eventually have a mass transit system.

Borg also said that the call for tenders for the Gozo tunnel will be issued in the coming weeks and companies or consortiums applying to take the tender would have to handle the design, building, operation and maintenance of the tunnel.

The government had announced last November that the call for tenders for the tunnel would be issued six months later.

Borg was asked for his reaction to the statement of the geologist Peter Gatt, who last November commented that "problematic geology" between Malta and Gozo which if not assessed seriously could result in loss of life during the construction phase of the tunnel, and on whether studies that he had in hand were painting a different picture.

Borg responded by saying that everybody was aware of Gatt's ability in the subject and noted that, while there can be different interpretations of similar things as with any other fields, a statement such as his cannot be ignored. Safety measures were paramount, he said.

The minister also said that so far the government had conducted a coring exercise to ascertain the nature of the rock underwater in the area where the tunnel is planned and seismic studies to ascertain the possibility of earthquakes.  An environmental impact assessment is also being carried out, he said.

The minister was also quizzed on question marks over where the construction waste from the tunnel would be disposed of.  On this topic, Borg said that while there were suggestions that a substantial amount of the material will be inert material and can hence be used again, it was at the same time no secret that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) was carrying out studies for a possible land reclamation policy. 

The concept of land reclamation is not a new one to the islands; Borg noted projects such as the Freeport, Marsa sports ground, and Msida junction which are all built on reclaimed land.  He did however take aim at those saying that somehow artificial islands with flats built onto them would be created, saying that claims such as these are totally untrue.

The Gozo tunnel will run for 13 kilometres between Nadur and the quiet hamlet of L-Imbordin near Manikata.

 


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