The Malta Independent 28 June 2022, Tuesday

Infrastructure Malta issues pre-qualification questionnaire for Malta-Gozo Tunnel Project

Karl Azzopardi Thursday, 9 January 2020, 10:31 Last update: about 3 years ago

Infrastructure Malta is inviting interested companies or consortia to participate in the first of a three-stage process to identify the concessionaire who will design, build, finance, operate and maintain the Malta-Gozo Tunnel.

Prospective bidders have three months, until Thursday 9 April 2020, to answer a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) to demonstrate their experience in similar tunnel developments, to show their environmental and health and safety record and to attest they have the technical capabilities and financial standing to successfully implement this project.

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“We are expecting the candidates to have experience working on similar projects of at least €250 million, we also want to make sure they have the personnel and the human resources necessary who are also experienced. We are also looking into, when it comes to health and safety, how many accident-free man-hours they have because we want to make sure that the bidder is not only experienced but also capable of putting in their offer. Finally, with regards to the environmental record, if they had any infringements in the past, they have to be listed in the first stage of the PQQ,” IM CEO Frederick Azzopardi said.

The call for this PQQ was internationally announced earlier this week in the European Union’s Journal. All relevant documentation and submission forms are available through the Government’s online procurement system – www.etenders.gov.mt (IM049/2019).  

The Malta-Gozo Tunnel Project includes the development of a 14-kilometre, partly subsea, tunnel accommodating two vehicle lanes, one in each direction and a wide central buffer offering additional space for emergency vehicles. This highly-anticipated permanent connection between the two islands will alleviate the economic and social challenges that Gozitan families and businesses have been experiencing for decades due to the limitations of existing sea and air links.

Through the process being launched this week, Infrastructure Malta is seeking to identify a concessionaire to develop and operate the tunnel for a pre-defined number of years. The duration of the concession will be determined in the final stages of this process. At the end of the concession period, the concessionaire will be required to transfer the tunnel infrastructure to the Government.

“The preferred option is for the project to be self-financed through the funds which the tunnel itself will procure. There is no indication on the tolls for the time being as this will be given at the final stage where the final five bidders will be putting forward the financial package that will be implemented,” he said.

The PQQ also indicates that the Government’s preferred option is for this project to be self-financed, without any form of guarantees or subsidies. Details on tolls or other fees for tunnel users are not being requested in the PQQ stage. They will be identified during the final stage, which will focus on the bidders’ financial proposals.

The planning of the Malta-Gozo Tunnel Project started several years ago as Transport Malta launched several technical, social and economic studies assessing the project’s viability. Infrastructure Malta was entrusted with this project when it was established in 2018. Soon after, in December of the same year, it issued a pre-information notice, which announced its intention to launch a competitive process to select the concessionaires that will develop this new infrastructure.

In 2019, Infrastructure Malta intensified work on the preliminary studies necessary to launch this process. Nine voluminous studies, each comprising several reports, and other technical data, are being made publicly-available as part of the PQQ documentation, to serve as guidance to prospective bidders. They include preliminary geophysical and geological investigations based on land and seabed core samples extracted along the proposed tunnel route, traffic flow studies, terrestrial and marine surveys and more.

The PQQ documentation also includes a conceptual design of the proposed tunnel structure, extending from the Xemxija area of Malta to Nadur, in Gozo. This design was prepared for guidance purposes only and the final proposed plans may include different structures and technologies. In fact, during the three-stage procurement process, bidders will be invited to propose improvements and other modifications, as long as they adhere to pre-established international environmental and safety standards and other technological best practices and specifications.    

In 2018, the agency also engaged a team of independent experts approved by the planning and environmental authorities to conduct an extensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the proposed project. This study will be completed after the final proposed tunnel plans are confirmed through the procurement process being launched this week, so that the final assessment will take into consideration all specifications of the final design. Once completed, the EIA will be published for public consultation as part of the established planning and environmental authorities’ process to determine the project permits.  

The five top-ranking bidders of the initial PQQ stage will qualify for the second stage, which includes an Invitation to Participate in Dialogue (ITPD). During this stage, participants shall submit detailed technical plans of the proposed tunnel structure as well as the implementation, operation and maintenance solutions they would adopt if entrusted with the concession. Each participant will be invited to dialogue meetings to explain the proposal to the evaluation team analysing each proposal.

The selection process will be concluded with the Best and Final Offer (BAFO) stage. PQQ shortlisted candidates who would have participated in the ITPD stage will be requested to submit a final proposal for the project. This will include a detailed technical and financial offer based on the solution proposed in the previous stage. The selection team will then identify and recommend the best offer based on pre-established criteria.

Infrastructure Malta is committed to continue supporting the planning and procurement team of experts working on this project, to identify the most sustainable solutions that can effectively attain the Government’s objective to give families and businesses in Gozo the connectivity required for a better quality of life and increased social and economic progress opportunities.

Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana said that “it is the mission of the Ministry of Gozo that whatever effects Gozo is no longer limited to Gozo itself but is also addressed on a national level. This project is exemplary of the attention that this government is giving this context.”

“Today’s Gozo is not as it used to be … We are seeing how Gozo is contributing to the national economy, a statistic has recently been published that shows how there has been an economical benefit of 13%,” explained Caruana. Another statistic she mentioned was that of the money that Gozo generated with 520,000 people – 20% increase from last year – and 165,000 cars – 10,000 more than last year – travelling to Gozo.

She believes that this is a socio-economical project as it will not only strengthen the economy but also our society – “we have to see Gozo repopulates as we are afflicted with a challenge that is an aging population, so we want Gozitans to be able to live and work in Gozo itself.”

Minister of Infrastructure Ian Borg also picked on this social element by saying that the various struggles that Gozitans face due to constant commuting across the Maltese Island will be simplified. He also highlighted the importance of making the project financially sustainable through the toll.

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