L-Imbordin, a quiet, rural hamlet on the outskirts of St Paul’s Bay, could be set for a radical transformation, as it has been earmarked to be the entrance of the proposed Gozo channel tunnel all the way to Nadur.

The proposed 14-kilometre link is significantly longer than versions drafted some years ago.

According to a preliminary study, the revised option will not have any impact on the Għadira nature reserve, and was also designed to ease the volume of traffic at Xemxija Hill.

Details of the massive project, which will provide a permanent link to the sister island, are contained in a study, part of a public consultation that will close on August 15.

The project description statement, as it is called, estimates that within 15 years, the number of vehicles crossing the channel will treble compared to 2010. It says that once the tunnel is in operation, the average journey time between Malta and Gozo will be cut by at least 40 minutes.

Read: €832,000 for Gozo tunnel studies

The study points out that the ferry service will have to remain, so as not to depend exclusively on one means of transport, as there may be circumstances in which the tunnel is not operational due to maintenance.

According to the preliminary plans, the tunnel will have two lanes in either direction, divided by a central buffer area.

Prepared by Transport Malta, the study is based on an earlier one done by Mott MacDonald in 2012, which concluded that the best option for a permanent link was a tunnel.

The study identified four possible routes, each having a different entry and exit point.

Six years down the line, these have now been narrowed down to one, with the option of having an entrance on the southern slope of Marfa Ridge being discarded due to the close proximity of a Natura 2000 site and the Għadira reserve. Furthermore, a proposal to have an immersed tube rather than a tunnel excavated in the seabed was also ditched, as it was deemed to have a major environmental impact.

Consequently, it was concluded that the best option would be to extend the proposed tunnel from Nadur to Mellieħa by a further three kilometres to have the entry point in L-Imbordin, midway between Golden Bay and Xemxija and close to Miżieb.

Read: Tunnel boreholes to establish route of Malta-Gozo link

The project would therefore also mitigate traffic congestion in Xemxija and Mellieħa, as the tunnel would be relatively close to the St Paul’s Bay Bypass, the study noted.

The document points out that the surrounding infrastructure at either portal will need to be upgraded. As a result, the existing country road at L-Imbordin would have to be transformed into a four-lane arterial thoroughfare all the way to St Paul’s Bay bypass to cater for the additional traffic, involving the loss of agricultural land.

The same will apply to Nadur, at the other side of the tunnel.

The sites at L-Imbordin and Nadur offer the advantage of being steep hillsides at low elevation from the sea and, therefore, require less excavation.

The two portals would be designed “to blend well with the surroundings”. However, it was pointed out that the exact locations would be decided at the conceptual stage.

Another major concern flagged in the study is the disposal of over one million cubic metres of rock that must be excavated.

Land reclamation was mentioned as a possible solution.

Submissions on the project can be sent by post to the Environment and Resources Authority, Hexagon House, Spencer Hill, Marsa MRS 1441 or e-mailed to eia.malta@era.org.mt.

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