Who benefits most from a Gozo tunnel?


 George M. Mangion¸ PKF Malta. April 2012




A lot of emotions have been stirred of late concerning the controversial underwater tunnel linking the islands. Hot on the heels of the blotched Arriva transportation reform¸ where over €70 million was spent on acquiring expired old bus licences and commuters are still reeling from the disorientation created by dysfunctional routes¸ which cost over €4 million in local consultant fees and then had to be completely overhauled.

The minister responsible for the Arriva adventure is the same one who is piloting the tunnel project. He is quoted by the media as saying that if the proposed tunnel is “environmentally viable¸ structurally ‘do-able’ and made economic sense¸ the government would commit to building it”. Not surprisingly¸ it has received the blessing of Mepa¸ which was reported in the media as saying that if no significant impacts on the environment were foreseen¸ the proposal did not require an environmental impact assessment.

This week¸ a government press release announced that a preliminary report saying it is “do-able” with the next step being to engage consultants to provide a full feasibility report. Without wanting to sound political¸ it is reminiscent of how¸ with equal fervour¸ the Fenech Adami administration launched the prestigious Midi project in the 1990s¸ hailing it as the most ambitious private development project that was aimed to launch Malta onto the world-class stage of modern living. Linked to the Midi project was the full restoration of the baroque Manoel Island fort and the restoration of the abandoned Lazaretto waterside quarantine hospital.

Now¸ more than 20 years down the line¸ we see the sacrilegious scarring of the Tigné Point promontory by a scary development. It is the result of a greedy overuse of land adorned with a conglomeration of box-like flats facing the baroque skyline of a fortified Valletta (all this sanctioned by a sanctimonious Mepa which¸ years later¸ swiftly approved a heavy-duty¸ oil-fired power station extension).

But we hope our leaders have learnt their lessons and that the next ambitious project – that of building a tunnel – will have a happier ending. This is to be encouraged¸ since such an important engineering feat will vastly help our road infrastructure and mitigate the insularity of all sorts suffered by our brothers on the sister island. Many people agree that the effect of the tunnel on them would be beneficial. No detailed information has yet been released to the public¸ but the cost today of a single-bore tunnel on the shortest connection is between €156 million and €500 million. Transport Malta appointed specialists Mott Macdonald to carry out the study¸ which proposes four potential links: three bored beneath the seabed and passing under Comino and another¸ an immersed tube tunnel¸ lying on them. The study revealed that¸ barring mishaps¸ such a tunnel would take seven years to complete. An alternative¸ which is also being considered¸ is to build a bridge. This option¸ which would include an upgraded ferry service and other