The Malta Independent 25 February 2020, Tuesday

Sustainable infrastructure

Sunday, 9 February 2020, 09:04 Last update: about 18 days ago

Fredrick Azzopardi

The €49.9 million project announced this week to cut over 90 per cent of cruise ship emissions in Grand Harbour is giving residents in this densely populated region over €375 million in cleaner air, improved health and other benefits.

The Grand Harbour Clean Air Project will see the introduction of shore-to-ship electricity for cruise-liners by 2023, two years ahead of the European Union’s recommended deadline. Infrastructure Malta is placing the Grand Harbour at the forefront of green port technologies in Europe. Whilst the EU has long been calling on member states to decarbonise the land-based activities of their cruise and shipping industries, to date only two European ports have installed shore-side electricity systems.

As one of the busiest cruise ports in Europe, the Grand Harbour will be able to provide shore power for up to six ships at the same time. This means major reductions in the emissions that they would otherwise produce, were they to keep their engines running whilst in port. The auxiliary engines of one cruise ship berthed in port for eight hours emit as much nitrogen dioxide as 300,000 cars driving from Cirkewwa to Marsaxlokk.

The projected results of this project are impressive. Cruise ships visiting Grand Harbour will emit 93 per cent less nitrogen dioxide, 92.6 per cent less particulate matter and 99.6 per cent less sulphur dioxide – pollutants that are major contributors to many respiratory illnesses.

The Environment and Resources Authority’s 2018 State of the Environment Report identifies the gains of investing in cleaner air: “reducing medical costs and increasing length of life, cognitive development, productivity, and number of working days.” It also identifies other non-measurable benefits such as improved water and soil quality.

Infrastructure Malta is also contributing to the country’s multi-faceted commitment to gradually overcome air pollution caused by the high volume of traffic and road congestion.

The unprecedented arterial roads upgrade, launched by the agency since it was established in 2018, is eliminating many bottlenecks and junctions that had exceeded their capacities many years ago, causing higher noise and air pollution levels in nearby neighbourhoods.

Reducing congestion in arterial roads leads to lower emissions in other residential streets as well. Commuters who want to avoid getting stuck in congested arterial roads by taking ‘quicker’ ways through nearby residential streets are encouraged to get back on the main roads as soon as they become safer and more efficient. As a result, many families now have a quieter, cleaner and safer environment outside their homes.

New roads are not designed to only reduce existing delays. When seeking EU funds for such projects, Infrastructure Malta needs to present the European Commission with solutions and road designs proven to maintain adequate levels of efficiency, safety and capacity for several decades.   

A 2019 analysis by economist Dr Gordon Cordina shows that these multi-million road upgrades are providing significant social and economic benefits. Within the next few decades, for every €1 million spent on seven major projects such as the Marsa Junction Project and the Central Link Project, Malta is getting some €7 million back in travel time savings, lower fuel costs and improved air quality. This adds up to a return of €1.2 billion on an investment of €140 million.

Through these projects, there will be a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles of 62,000 tonnes every year. This is the same amount as the carbon dioxide emissions saved every year by all the photovoltaic (PV) panel renewable energy systems in Malta and Gozo.

Among the seven projects reviewed, the Central Link Project ranked first in its cost-to

-benefit ratio. It will halve journey times along the principal route between Mriehel and Ta’ Qali. More significantly, it will reduce particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide pollution in these areas by up to 66 per cent and 41 per cent by 2030, even when considering future transport demand.

These gains make this project the most beneficial infrastructural investment in Malta. For every €1 million spent on this upgrade, road-users and residents are getting back over €16 million in cleaner air, lower risk of accidents and reduced travel times and fuel costs. This means that the cost-to-benefit ratio of the Central Link Project is more than double that of the Grand Harbour Clean Air Project. It will have a much greater positive impact on a larger section of the population currently affected by the congestion problems of the existing road infrastructure.

Moreover, this value does not include other gains that cannot be easily quantified, such as new infrastructure for alternative modes of travel, which is presently almost non-existent in this area. Over 47 per cent of the additional land taken for this project is required for new footpaths, for Malta’s longest segregated cycle track and for new landscaped areas, and not for new car lanes.

When upgrading roads, we are also investing heavily in making them safer for road-users who seek more sustainable modes of travel, such as public transport, walking and cycling. Through recently completed or ongoing projects, we are adding 12 kilometres of new cycle lanes in Maltese roads. We are also working to make roads safer for bus passengers, with projects such as the L-Avjazzjoni Avenue and Blata l-Bajda footbridges and the proposed Floriana (Bombi) subway connecting some of the busiest intersections of the Maltese bus network.

Infrastructure Malta’s ongoing investments are the first step towards overcoming the environmental consequences of current transportation challenges. They are giving Malta a long-overdue optimisation of its road network and maritime resources, for a better quality of life and improved air quality.

Combined with other Government plans, such as electrification and mass rapid transit solutions, we are gradually turning current challenges into promising opportunities for a more sustainable future.

 

Ing. Fredrick Azzopardi is CEO of Infrastructure Malta

 

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