2019 is here and as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said in his annual speech ahead of the New Year, “2019 will be a better year than the one that has just ended.”
Unlike Muscat, I do not have a crystal ball but I sort of believe him when he says that the year which has just started will be even better. At least for him, his party, the many who rely on him to earn a living and big business.
But sadly, the generation of wealth will come at a price. And none will be bigger than the price that we, future generations and the environment will pay for the Gozo tunnel.
In the next few months government will issue the tender for the design, building, maintenance, and operation of the tunnel, which should be operational by 2024.
The megalomaniac project has all the characteristics to make it the single most devastating project ever undertaken by the country. The 13km tunnel could cost anything up to €500 million to construct and its upkeep will cost the taxpayer more millions.
Let’s for a second assume that the tunnel is financially feasible and take into account the fact that the construction phase and the tunnel’s maintenance will create many jobs and make a few construction moguls richer.
As the Maltese saying goes, ‘bil-flus tagħmel triq fil-baħar’ (with money you can make a road in the sea) but there are other costs to take into consideration.
The tunnel will among others result in over one million cubic metres of construction waste, the destruction of the idyllic hamlet of L-Imbordin which has been earmarked for the tunnel’s entrance in Malta and the final nail in the coffin for the delusional vision of Eco-Gozo.
If that was not enough, geologist Peter Gatt has warned that the “problematic geology between Malta and Gozo” may lead to the loss of life in the construction phase.
As the Green Party chairperson Carmel Cacopardo recently said, geological studies “cannot be rushed to meet a deadline set by a political agenda.”
But I would go further. The environment and citizens’ quality of life should not be decimated to win a handful of votes or to appease the laments of Gozitan businesses.
For a start, the millions being spent on the studies and the millions it will cost the taxpayer to construct and maintain the tunnel can be spent on improving the current transport infrastructure.
A good friend of mine who moved to Gozo to get away from the mayhem and constant traffic congestion in Malta once told me that whenever Gozo is invaded by Maltese tourists during the Santa Maria holiday season or some other long-weekend he comes back to Malta to escape the chaos.
And that is what the tunnel will probably bring to Gozo. More cars, more traffic, more noise, more pollution, more construction to meet the needs of visitors and more of the ugliest facets of Malta.
The tunnel will make the life of daily commuters much easier but it will also spell an end to efforts to construct a sustainable economy which explores innovative ways to turn Gozo’s double isolation into an advantage.
Instead, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is seeing the Gozo tunnel as an opportunity to justify land reclamation in Malta, by using the construction waste generated during the construction phase to expand our shores.
Sadly, the Gozo tunnel enjoys cross-party support and our politicians are looking at things from a very narrow perspective, ignoring the effects the tunnel will have on our long-term future.