Gozo Channel: tunnelling discounts



When the current Gozo Channel tunnel debate was initiated around five years ago, the then Minister Chris Said went on record to emphasise that the proposed tunnel, to be bored under the seabed would cost approximately €150 million. This estimate has now been upped to €300 million.

This is one of the basic assumptions underlying the study commissioned by Transport Malta, together with the Gozo Business Chamber, and carried out by E Cubed Consultants Ltd, commonly referred to as the “economic and financial feasibility study”.

The study makes interesting reading as it considers the economics of the so-called permanent link between the islands of Gozo and Malta. I respectfully submit that the conclusions of this study are as valid as the basic assumptions which underpin it.

I draw the attention of readers to the fact that proposals for various tunnels are currently under consideration in other countries.

The first is the proposed Trans-Pennine tunnel, intended to improve the transport links between Sheffield and Manchester in the UK. The ambitious 18- mile (29km) tunnel would be built under the A628 Woodhead Pass. After having established that the geology of the Pennines was suitable for such a project, it was estimated that the approximate cost would be a staggering £6 billion (€8.40 billion).

The second UK project is the much-debated and controversial tunnel at Stonehenge. Intended to upgrade the A303 road, it is projected to have a length of 1.8 miles (2.9 km) and is currently estimated to cost £490 million (€700 million).

Another projected tunnel, recently given the green light, will pass between the Danish island of Lolland and the German island of Fehmarn. Construction work on this 19 km tunnel should start next January and it is estimated to cost €8.7 billion.

The estimates for the proposed tunnels in the United Kingdom indicate that the cost of a 10 km tunnel would exceed the €2 billion mark, even before taking into account the fact that excavating below the seabed would cost substantially more. In addition, the Danish/German tunnel indicates a pro-rata cost of €4.7 billion for a 10 kilometre tunnel.

In addition, the geological parameters below the Gozo Channel are still largely unknown: geological studies have to be carried out and examined in detail in order to establish the facts. Without these facts, the basic information necessary to take essential design decisions is still unavailable. What is known is worrying enough: the presence of active geological faults running right through the proposed route of the tunnel.

The study’s conclusions – that the proposed tunnel is economically viable – have  been reached prior to the carrying out of geological studies. Even the estimated costs used in the economic viability study have been established before these essential geological studies.

In this type of project, no estimate of costs can be precise – especially if it is not based on adequate and essential information.

This indicates that the conclusion of the economic viability study was premature.

In addition to the geological studies, additional important (and essential) studies have (as far as is known) not yet been commissioned. These include studies on the environmental impact, business impact and social impact.

Once concluded, such studies will inevitably point to other issues that will require detailed consideration, including the extent to which the projected permanent link between Malta and Gozo will toll the death knell for holiday accommodation in Gozo: hotels, flats and farmhouses.

The above indicates that, unless the promoters of the tunnel have some cast-iron guarantee of substantial discounts on the costs, the proposal is a non-starter even before any consideration of the environmental, business and social impact. It is about time to begin serious work on the practical alternative: a fast ferry service between Gozo and the Grand Harbour.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 December 2015

Traffic and the budget


The Budget acknowledges that traffic is a problem; unfortunately it fails to present a vision for the future, as Transport Malta has yet to carry out a consultation exercise.

Acknowledging that Malta’s roads are bursting at the seams is one small step in the right direction. Simultaneously, however, the Budget goes in to propose various measures, amongst which a couple which will definitely increase traffic. Providing more parking spaces, widening roads and improving junctions through the provision of flyovers will improve traffic flow, but it will also increase vehicular traffic.

It is not rocket science to conclude that a long-term plan to reduce car ownership is the only way forward. Currently, with around 341,000 cars on our roads, car ownership in Malta stands at 802 per thousand population. In contrast, the figure for the UK is 516, for Italy 682 and for the USA 786. If Malta’s car ownership profile were to be reduced to a reasonable 500 cars per 1000 population, this would signify that there are currently 130,000 more cars on our roads than is reasonable.

Given the short travelling distances in Malta, public transport should normally be sufficient for most of our needs. Car ownership has increased exponentially over the years as public transport was found lacking – even for such short distances and it  got worse over time.

The recently published White Paper by the Education Ministry pointed out how schools are affected by traffic congestion. They are not, in fact, a  cause of traffic congestion; rather, they are one of its many victims. Introducing a coordinated scheme providing school transport to serve both private and public schools could reducing traffic during rush hours.

The same could be stated in regarding the accessibility of industrial estates. If these were suitably serviced by public transport routes, a substantial reduction in traffic generation could be achieved.

The budget also refers to alternative means of transport. Reinforcing sea links across Grand Harbour between Valletta and the Three Cities as well as across Marsamxett Bay between Sliema and Valletta, could also contribute substantially to a reduction of traffic movements. Various attempts have been made over the years to restore such links but they were not as successful as had been hoped due to the fares having generally been considered as being on the high side.

Reintroducing these maritime links across the harbours on a sound footing would provide a long-term alternative public transport service that would substantially reduce travel time for all its users. However, it would not be reasonable to expect this to be completely self-financed, at least not until such time as it has attracted custom and established itself as a reliable and efficient public transport service.

The budget also encourages the use of small-capacity motorcycles by reducing their annual road licence fee to €10. This reduction would certainly be an encouragement, even though it could very easily been removed completely!  However, as was pointed out – even in the budget speech itself – such a measure can only be effective if it is reinforced by an improvement in the  behaviour of  road-users as well as through better maintenance of our roads.

Improving the use of the existing road infrastructure would be effective as a short-term measure. The proposal to introduce the “tidal lane” in a number of ours roads would  certainly reduce congestion through facilitating traffic flow. It will not, however, reduce vehicle movements.

The EU -funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta carried out by the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta examined the economic impact of traffic in Malta. Such impact included not only time lost due to heavy traffic, but also excessive fuel consumed and the effect on health of the resulting air and noise pollution.  The estimated impact is substantial and add up to around four per cent of GDP. This would completely cancel out the projected 2016 increase of 3.6 per cent in Malta’s GDP.

The current extent of the traffic problem in Malta is due to the failure on the part of the state over a number of years. The mismanagement of public transport has created a vacuum, as a result of which cars have been permitted to take over our roads. Reversing the process is possible, but it will not be easy: it will require a coordinated approach and clear thinking. At the end of the day, all the measures taken must have one clear objective: replacing the private car as the preferred means of transport. It is the only way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 18 October 2015

Bis-sulluzzu ma nsolvu xejn

traffic congestion

source : http://www.um.edu.mt/think/bad-traffic-bad-air/


L-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ikkritikat il-White Paper dwar l-impatt tat-trasport tal-iskejjel. Qalet li ma jistax ikun li niffaċċjaw sewwa l-problema tat-trasport bis-sulluzzu. Qalulna li rridu naraw l-istampa kollha u nfasslu strateġija olistika li tkun ibbażata fuq transport pubbliku li jkun b’saħħtu u effiċjenti.

Ġa ktibt dwar dan u ma rridtx innaqqas mill-merti tal-White Paper dwar it-trasport tal-iskejjel. Din il-White Paper tagħmel ħafna proposti validi (dwar l-iskejjel) imma naqbel mal-argument tal-Kamra tal-Kummerċ li bis-sulluzzu m’aħna ser naslu mkien.

Apparti dan għaddejjin affarijiet oħra.

Matul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat il-Ministeru responsabbli mill-Kunsilli Lokali kien qed jiġbor informazzjoni mingħand l-istess kunsilli dwar il-ħinijiet li fihom jinġabar l-iskart mid-djar bl-intenzjoni li jivvaluta liema huma dawk il-kunsilli li s-servizz tal-ġbir tal-iskart tagħhom qed jagħti kontribut għall-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fl-iktar ħinijiet kritiċi tal-ġurnata.

Fi tmiem il-ġimgħa li għaddiet ħarġet sejħa dwar espressjoni ta’ interess dwar forom alternattivi ta’ transport bejn il-lokalitajiet fil-Port il-Kbir u l-Port ta’ Marsamxett.

Għadhom kif tħabbru rotot ġodda u rotot imtejba tat-trasport pubbliku.

Dawn huma kollha inizzjattivi tajba, imma kien ikun aħjar kieku kellna pjan wieħed komprensiv imfassal sewwa għal titjib sħiħ li jikkunsidra l-aspetti kollha u li kien jinkudi dawn il-proposti u oħrajn magħhom.

In-numru ta’ karozzi li għandna fit-toroq huwa kbir wisq għad-daqs ta’ Malta u qed ikompli jikber.

Ftit hemm għażliet li għandu quddiemu l-pajjiż. Il-karozzi mit-toroq iridu jonqsu u jeħtieġ li jonqsu sostanzjalment. Iktar kmieni din is-sena, f’artiklu li kont ktibt fl-Independent tal-Ħadd kont ippruvajt nagħti ċifra biex nieħdu idea dwar kemm hi kbira l-problema. Kont semmejt iċ-ċifra ta’ 122,000 karozza bħala n-numru ta’ karozzi li għandhom jonqsu mit-toroq tagħna. Fl-artiklu intitolat Reducing 122,000 vehicles from Malta’s roads nispjega kif wasalt għal din iċ-ċifra.

Li nipprovdu l-parking, inwessgħu t-toroq u niddisinjaw flyovers li jimpressjonaw iwassal biss biex jiżdiedu l-karozzi fit-toroq u jagħmel il-problema agħar milli hi. Kif fil-fatt sar matul dawn l-aħħar snin. Il- pajjiż ċeda t-toroq lill-karozza. Hemm bżonn li t-toroq neħduhom lura. Dawk ukoll huma tagħna lkoll.

Il-problema hi kbira ħafna u ser tkompli tikber. Minkejja li hemm ħafna rieda tajba biex naslu irridu nifhmu li ma nistgħux insolvu din il-problema bis-sulluzzu.