Down the Gozo rabbit hole

It is impossible to support a road tunnel from Malta to Gozo from an environmental viewpoint. A tunnel for a metro between the two islands, however, presents a more balanced choice in the decision.

Any tunnel presents serious environmental concerns, but I would be much more favourably inclined if it provides new public transport, and ultimately reduces cars on the roads.

Damage to the landscape would at least alleviate the serious environmental pressures caused by road traffic – and improve transport to Gozo at the same time. This kind of trade-off is worth discussing, while a road tunnel is a short-sighted, one-sided solution with no environmental benefits whatsoever.

More information is rightly being called for. One of the studies I would want to see is an estimate for the projected increase in cars in Gozo with a road tunnel, and the associated air emissions and pollution. It should also consider the potential need for future road-widening in Gozo to cater for this. This should be compared with the projected decrease in the use of private cars if an underground train is brought on line.

What number of cars is predicted to be on Maltese roads in 5 or 10 years’ time, at this rate? Where are the serious plans for expanding public transport options, overall? What is the estimated increase in property values in Gozo with a tunnel, and what social impact might this have on residents, particularly on first-time buyers?

The traffic in Malta just keeps getting worse. Road-widening can only relieve it temporarily. As long as more cars continue to be imported, bigger roads just paper over the problem. It is like buying larger clothes due to constant weight gain – a bigger size may feel more comfortable for a while, but the underlying problem is the growing obesity not the clothes. Controlling calories is the remedy, not an elastic waist-band.

Innovative thinking is needed to solve the traffic problem. A road tunnel to Gozo is not innovation, it is more of the same.

Linked to the burgeoning traffic, what about all these new ODZ petrol stations? What will happen when cars go electric in the future – will they be turned into garages or supermarkets?

The Environment Authority is rightly objecting to new permits for petrol stations before the policy is amended as promised. But as with the Paceville master plan, this policy is on hold. Perhaps it will be relaunched once favoured projects have obtained their permits. One mentality pervades all actions at the Planning Authority.

Innovative thinking is needed to solve the traffic problem. A road tunnel to Gozo is not innovation, it is more of the same. More cars and more roads. Is there no end in sight? We are heading for grid-lock. Just imagine being stuck in traffic in a 13-km tunnel under the sea.

From an environmental viewpoint, building a road tunnel to Gozo is like going down the rabbit hole. Down below is the mad hatter’s tea party, or maybe our parliament, where good sense, logic and vision are abandoned.

What was the parliamentary vote on the tunnel this week intended to achieve anyway? It just feels like political maneouvering, possibly due to the upcoming European parliamentary elections.

If the Opposition (or some MPs) had voted against the tunnel, the government side could conceivably have scored political points in Gozo. This may now have been averted, but if some people already saw too little difference between the two main parties, this vote certainly drives that point home – particularly with those voters already disillusioned by the current political class in Malta.

A parliamentary vote on Gozo tunnel at this stage feels like political maneouvering, possibly due to the upcoming European parliamentary elections.

If the Opposition had insisted on studies being published before any vote on the tunnel, what would have happened then? Besides facing potential negative repercussions in Gozo, they could perhaps have shown up the government for not bothering with environmental concerns. Not that this would be anything new.

Does this mean that everyone is in favour of the tunnel? No, it certainly does not. What would be the result of, say, a referendum on the tunnel? Hard to know. In any case, the Brexit referendum was enough to put anyone off referenda for life.

The deeper question is whether politicians should reflect the wishes of their constituents, or do what they think is best. In the UK, many MPs are now struggling with their conscience. While they must respect the result of direct democracy – the people’s vote – many clearly believe that the decision to leave the EU is not in the best interests of their country.

As we have seen in the UK, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers can be too simplistic. Leave or remain did not give voters an informed choice over the complex, possible options.

Similarly, a parliamentary vote on Gozo tunnel at this stage seems crude and premature. There are at least three options which require more detail to be presented to the public: (1) road tunnel, (2) metro tunnel, and (3) improve the ferry service.

Politicians have declared their position, but is it too much to expect a full, inclusive national debate based on information, not on votes?

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