A consortium lobbying for an “immersed tunnel” on the seabed between Malta and Gozo claims its proposal is the best solution as it would leave open the option to introduce a monorail system later.
It also believes that the government’s proposal to excavate a tunnel under the seabed would probably be costlier and would not offer such flexibility.
These arguments were made by a spokesman for the Malta Gozo Fixed Link Consortium in an interview with the Times of Malta.
Based on the principle of laying prefabricated concrete tunnel parts, which would be joined underwater, the project came to the fore last month when the consortium uploaded a short video presentation on the internet. Though it stoked debate, it also raised many questions on its viability.
Spearheaded by Luke Chetcuti, the son of the late Paceville magnate Hugo Chetcuti, who originally came up with the proposal about two years ago, the consortium is still “in formation”. The spokesman declined to name the other investors saying it would be “premature at this stage” but he did say that a letter of intent had been signed with an undisclosed foreign financier – “a huge financial company involved in the insurance industry”.
“Having consulted Danish experts and carried out various studies, we are now ready to present our proposal,” the spokesman said.
There were more than 150 tunnels of the kind being proposed around the globe, including one stretching over 18 kilometres between Germany and Denmark, he noted.
From an environmental perspective, the consortium acknowledges that the biggest issue is the impact the structure would have on the posidonia beds, a protected type of plant populating the channel.
Such concern stems from the fact that the seabed will be excavated. However, rather than bore through the rock along an estimated 14-kilometre route, from l-Imbordin to Nadur, as the government is proposing, the immersed tunnel technology would only require the excavation of an 80-metre wide passage along the underwater route to make way for the prefabricated tunnel units.
Once the entire structure is formed, it is covered with the same material unearthed during excavation, thus doing away with the need of having to dispose large volumes of rock elsewhere.
The spokesman said studies on how to rehabilitate the seabed were done and they would also make use of technology to mitigate pollution. Feedback from the Environment Resources Authority would be sought, he pledged. Seven possible routes were identified and, in all cases, the exits would be very close to the shore as the tunnel would not be as deep as if it had to be excavated under the seabed, he added.
Excavation and labour expenses would be lower than if boring through rock, however, the spokesman would not say how much the project would cost.
“Our proposal will probably cost less than the government’s proposal but at this stage we cannot give any figures,” he said.
“Unlike the government’s proposal, our project will have four and not two lanes. Consequently, at any stage we could dedicate two of them for a metro system leaving vehicular access open.”