Infrastructure Malta is missing the real alternative

The studies forming part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the Central Link project dealing with the road infrastructure between Mrieħel and Attard has just been published. Public consultation runs up to 21 February 2019.

The studies published are voluminous. In addition to the coordinated assessment report – running into 543 pages – there are 11 technical reports dealing with various issues of considerable relevance. They deal with land cover and uses, landscape character and visual amenities, geology, water, ecology, agriculture, archaeology, air quality, noise, infrastructure and utilities and public access.

The reports dated between August 2015 and January 2019 run into approximately 1400 pages. In the limited time for which all the different reports have been available, it has not yet been possible to read through them.

Notwithstanding, the general approach of Infrastructure Malta – undoubtedly as a result of Ministerial direction – is very clear. It is proposed by Infrastructure Malta to alleviate the various bottlenecks on our roads, and the resulting traffic congestion, through the construction of new roads, the widening of existing ones and the upgrading of junctions. It is envisaged that, as a result of doing away with bottlenecks, the level of emissions will be reduced, thereby improving air quality, the time lost in traffic will be eliminated as well as the over-consumption of fuel, resulting in savings in both the fuel used and the emissions generated.

Chapter 3 of the coordinated assessment examines and assesses alternatives to the proposal under consideration. Six alternatives are considered, ranging from a do-nothing option to a number of specific infrastructural solutions, including a combination of such solutions (see page 66 of the coordinated assessment).

The coordinated assessment ignores one clear and specific objective of the National Transport Master-Plan 2025, that is a reduction in the number of cars on our roads. Approved in 2016, this master plan establishes a number of operational objectives for the implementation of transport policy. Objective 2.2.2 establishes the following: “Provide alternatives to private vehicles to encourage sustainable travel patterns and reduce private vehicular demand in the congested hub area”. The master plan explains that “this objective has been developed since the data shows that about 50 per cent of trips are under 15 minutes, illustrating that mobility is produced at a local level on very short paths.” (see page 95 of Master Plan)

The EIA presented by Infrastructure Malta for public consultation fails to consider the implementation of this objective among the various alternatives that can be used to address traffic congestion. It is possible that Infrastructure Malta is facing a brick wall due to a lack of political will to implement this objective. Someone needs to explain why this policy route is being discarded so soon after it being included into the Master Plan.

Earlier this month, we were informed about the substantial increase in the patronage of public transport. It was reported that during 2018, 53.4 million people had used public transport: an increase of 11.25% over 2017. It is clear that the public is responding through the uptake of the sustainable transport options being made available.

Transport Malta needs to stop procrastinating and take the bull by the horns. A road map for implementing the objective of reducing the number of cars from our roads is the only sensible way forward. It is the long-term view which is missing in our transport policy. Once this road map is clearly defined, then it would be easier to reassess – and probably substantially redefine and downscale – the Central Link project on the basis of a realistic alternative.

The government has, unfortunately, failed to appreciate that it has already identified policy tools with which to tackle traffic congestion. It had a solution in hand which targeted the cause of the problem: cars.

That the EIA also fails to assess this alternative is a significant flaw in the process, as this assessment should be an independent examination of the possible solutions to the identified problem. It needs to be addressed forthwith.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 January 2019

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