The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
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Gozo – Victoria seriously needs the ring-road

Emmanuel J. Galea Sunday, 18 February 2024, 07:47 Last update: about 3 months ago

When in Gozo, travel apps, cab sharing apps, places of interest apps provide the users with identical directions towards Dwejra inland sea, Ta Pinu Shrine, Ta Dbiegi Crafts Centre, and other interesting places in the vicinity. All these directions include access through Republic Street in Victoria.

Gozo residents and frequent visitors to Gozo are familiar with the way to their capital Victoria, commonly known as Rabat. Upon arrival at Mgarr, and as they get closer to the outskirts of Xewkija, visitors see the imposing citadel, which shows their proximity to Victoria. This is where traffic flow slows down, especially during daily peak hours. 

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Apart from being geographically in the middle of Gozo, Victoria links the four extreme points of Gozo. This city is also a tourism zone with several very interesting and frequented attractions, including the Citadel, its historic quarter, churches and various buildings of historic and architectural relevance. Victoria comprises the Ministry for Gozo, different government departments, offices of the Bishop of the Diocese of Gozo and various schools. That is not all! There are the hospitals, the Courts, banks, sports complex, theatres, together with most of the commercial outlets on the Island.

This means that the daily influx to and from Victoria is not only dependent to the number of Maltese and/or tourists that cross from the mainland but also to the number of Gozitan residents from all over Gozo who either work in Victoria or need to do business in Victoria.

The northern part of the island comprises the villages of Zebbug, Ghasri, Kercem, St. Lucia, Munxar, Gharb, and San Lawrenz. It includes also Ta Pinu Shrine, Ta Dbiegi Crafts village, nearby Kempinski luxury hotel and the seaside resorts of Xlendi, Dwejra inland sea and Marsalforn. 

All the commuting, including building construction logistics and related services, have to move through Republic street, Independence Square (It-Tokk), Sir Adrian Dingli street to St Ursula street. From then on, with a massive sigh of relief, the way to the northern part of Gozo is straightforward. This same ordeal applies also the other way round to Southern part of Gozo towards Mgarr harbour.

This part of Victoria is the most active zone of the city, especially with vehicles of all types and sizes. Victoria is a hive of activity ranging from feasts of Santa Maria and San Gorg, processions during Easter, carnival parades and other celebrations happening during the year. In order to reach the northern section, drivers must avoid the central part of Victoria and take other secondary roads. 

This gives rise to delays, frustration, and chaos, especially during the hot summer days. But is there an alternative route to avoid all these nightmares? Gozo is... Gozo. Visitors do not expect delays, devious routes, and insufficient signage. 

Gozo has had the plans for building a ring-road on hold for the past thirty years. The urgency of addressing the situation was evident three decades ago, making it an imperative decision today.

Planning and constructing a ring-road is the only way forward. There was a time when the Ministry for Gozo requested plans for new and sufficient routes, such as a ring-road. It happened in the early 1990s. The Ministry for Gozo also sought the views and comments of the Victoria Local Council (VLC) on those plans. The primary aim of this project was to ease traffic congestion, particularly caused by large vehicles. This project has been and continues to be a good one. It is now more urgently needed than ever.

In February 2007 the Victoria local council led by mayor Robert Tabone unanimously agreed to send a letter addressed to Audrey Testaferrata de Noto, who was responsible for traffic management systems within Transport Authority (ADT), requesting them to start treating the matter seriously, effectively and urgently. The VLC referred to the problem being caused by heavy vehicles passing through Victoria, particularly those using Republic Street, and proposed a better traffic management system and suggested the ring-road.

Tabone concluded: “Unfortunately, we have not even received an acknowledgement of this letter and to the numerous reminders that followed.”

In 2018, (after a change in Government in 2013) Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana revealed plans to reconstruct the Victoria bypass, the road which goes from the hospital straight to Xewkija creating an important link for Gozo’s infrastructure allowing the traffic coming from Ta’ Sannat, Munxar and Xlendi to be diverted to Xewkija. Dr Caruana said: “the Government doubled its budget for 2018 for the roads in Gozo, which has now gone up to €3.6 million.” Obviously, this was reasoning in the right direction.

Infrastructure Malta (IM) is now in charge of the development, maintenance, and improvement of roads and public infrastructure in the Maltese Islands.

According to IM: “Our responsibilities range from multi-million investments in the country’s redevelopment’s arterial road network to the development, reconstruction and maintenance of residential streets and other structures, including maritime facilities.”

So what is the reason for the Victoria ring-road being excluded from IM’s list of pending projects? While they have other controversial projects in Gozo such as the Marsalforn road widening project which critics have referred to as an ‘environmental massacre’. This project will require the use of approximately 11,000 square meters of arable agricultural land and 3,000 cubic meters of soil. ‘Il-Wied ta’ Marsalforn’, the biggest watercourse in Gozo, will also suffer significant consequences from the disruption. The Gozo Ministry has already granted the €9 million tender to its preferred developers, showcasing its efficiency. 

According to the Gozo Regional Development Authority (GRDA) set up in 2020, this Gozo Ministry mouthpiece states: “Through its two main roles, the GRDA will be a further step towards optimising Gozo’s point of views during any national policy discussion, making sure that Gozitan interests are taken into account and that any policies, projects or action plans that potentially can impact the affairs of Gozo take into account its specific characteristics and realities.”

GRDA was also entrusted with “preparing a Masterplan for Victoria to provide a vision for the creation of open spaces, green scaping, and a multi- level car park. GRDA is planning to publish this Masterplan through a number of documents that include feasibility studies and visual material during 2023.”

Better late than never! The GRDA should vigorously consider projecting and implementing the Victoria ring-road, but hold on! Maybe they have to reach out to the Gozo Minister first!

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