Efficient link to Gozo
Alfred E. Baldacchino
The debate on a link between Malta and Gozo has reached the point of discussing a tunnel or a bridge.
Some were quick to jump on the bandwagon, professing the economic benefits to Gozo of such link. They have every right to think so but so have those who believe that this will lead to an irreversible national negative impact on the social and ecological fabric of both islands.
A number of questions have not been asked, much less answered.
A Gozitan entrepreneur professed that such a link would be just another road, just like that from Marsascala to Valetta. Would it?
Preliminary guesstimates indicate the tunnel would meagerly cost about €150 million, not taking in consideration the externalities which society and the environment will have to pay.
Estimates of the bridge have not yet been divulged.
The maximum depth of the channel is 30 metres, so the minimum depth of the tunnel below sea level has to be at least 50 metres, depending on the strata in the way. A leading geologist, Peter Gatt, (Times of Malta, February 3, 2011) had emphasised that the channel’s geology is riddled with faults, abounding with clay in certain areas, which can lead to a catastrophic end. The populist mentality would reject this as scaremongering but a professional decision has to be based on such economic, social and ecological aspects and not just on populist politics.
Both exits of the tunnel, taking into consideration the gradient from the bottom, will bulldoze through the social and environmental fabric of both islands.
Chris Said, a Gozitan Nationalist MP (Times of Malta, January 31, 2011) said that there is an immediate advantage to the environmental and social issues: generating and increasing more traffic through such facilities is an advantage.
Franco Mercieca, another Gozitan MP from from the Labour side (January 23, 2011) declared that linking an island with the mainland could mean huge savings for the government.
These political arguments lack any consideration of the externalities involved, be they ecological, social and even financial.
Is it worth to have such a huge capital outlay and such a negative impact on a national scale considering that only a small percentage of the population involved and such people will, nonetheless, still have to drive to the heart of both islands whichever way they are going?
A permanent link between the two islands would, without doubt, change in an irreversible way Gozo’s positive insular characteristics, be they social, ecological or economical. The big bulk of visitors to Gozo, be they local or foreign, go there because of its idyllic characteristics.
Time-wise, it would be better to go back home or to one’s hotel, even if this is in Marsaxlokk, than to spend the night in Gozo, Alternattiva Demokratika’s Carmel Carmel Cacopardo had noted (Malta Today, June 16, 2013). How will this affect bed nights in Gozo? Would it, thus, become just another Paceville or Buġibba?
This does not mean there is not an urgent need for a better, more efficient, faster, more reliable and easier link, managed professionally, though not politically, to accommodate inhabitants as well as Maltese and foreign visitors, and also to ensure the protection of the social and ecological fabric of the islands.
An efficient, fast sea transport service, like the one between Malta and Sicily, can ferry one from Mġarr to Valletta or Sliema before one can say Jack Robinson, avoiding all the traffic jams on the way to get to the centre of the island. An efficient public transport to all the different parts of the island will be an added relief.
The natural resource, the sea, is there waiting and the capital outlay required would be much, much lower. The sea ferry option also offers the possibility of utilising one’s own transport means and avoids the need of having to drive from Ċirkewwa and back, consuming less fossil fuel and cutting emissions, besides helping the balance of overseas payments.
The much-needed link between the islands has to be studied and addressed holistically and not piecemeal.
The national characteristics, both social and ecological, will also be preserved. In addition, this link will be economically viable and friendly.
One may perhaps ask: but what of the financial cost to make the crossing? Considering the toll that is likely to be charged to use a tunnel or a bridge (which rate, I can imagine, would be based on commercial considerations), the stress, the fuel burnt to drive through bottlenecks all the way from Ċirkewwa to the centre of the island, not to mention the externalities and the time saved, a sea link is less expensive than the ideas being bandied about in the political arena.
Unless the politicians are dead set to destroy what is left of the social and environmental fabric of these islands in the name of progress and capital gain, it would be a win-win situation, a sustainable decision where the economic, social and environmental fabrics will definitely benefit.
Mercieca wrote: “As Gozitans our destiny is written on the wall. Unless we leave the island for good, we have to regularly travel to Malta all our life.” Does this not apply to all of the Maltese people living on this isolated rock in the middle of the Mediterranean?
We have to accept the pros and cons of living here, with all the benefits and difficulties this implies. If we do not like it, we can always pack up and leave like many others did to solve the insularity problem, in search of better jobs, wages and better governance.
Why do we have to think that insularity is the ‘certificate of lack of progress or regress in comparison to other communities’? It is a challenge which we accept to face and overcome and use to our advantage. Tourists, one of our main economic contributors, come here to see our way of life and appreciate it.
Why do we have to destroy it?