There is currently a weird obsession in Malta with tunnelling. It’s almost like being in the movie, The Great Escape: “We need a tunnel, let’s build three!”
And much like being in a POW camp, tunnelling, for Malta, appears to be the only way out of the situation in which we have found ourselves.
There are two primary problems: first, both political parties want to build (or to start, because they wouldn’t be in government long enough to see light at the end of it) a tunnel to Gozo – so there is no way that anybody could vote against one, and the winning party could claim that it had a mandate from the electorate to start digging.
The second is that – here’s the surprise – Malta’s politicians are looking in completely the wrong direction.
What’s needed is not a tunnel to Gozo, but a tunnel from it. There is absolutely no point in creating a traffic flow under the channel if it can’t move when it gets to the other side. And that is where the problem, at least the biggest problem, lies, on Malta.
Experts, both professional and self-imagined, are predicting a transport gridlock any day soon. Alternative options – better bus services with bus lanes, car sharing, bicycle lanes – don’t seem to be working very well. The Maltese are joined at the hip to their cars. So the only way out, is to dig down.
A tunnel from Ċirkewwa might be a start. But it needs to go south, underground, not north, under water. For the biggest difficulty with the crossing is not the ferries, but what happens when you drive off them. There needs to be an escape route from that horrible approach to the port which is by far the worst part of the journey.
Once past Mellieħa it could branch off anywhere – to Mosta, Sliema, Valletta, Mater Dei, the university, the airport, Smart City. It would probably come out into the open air at times, much as the London Underground does.
Simon Busuttil has talked of a railway, apparently without realising that where tracks could be laid, cars and trucks could drive just as easily, and therefore solve the problem of what to do about transport at either end. So a road tunnel is what’s needed, and it needs to be built on Malta.
Building on (or under) land is cheaper, quicker and safer than tunnelling under water that is far deeper than, say, the English Channel. Even a first, short link would relieve congestion considerably. So while a tunnel could and would be detrimental to Gozo it could be the solution on Malta.
Consider some of the benefits: everybody who is unemployed, but fit, could be given a job; different (competing) contractors could handle different sections. It’s a win-win.
I am totally opposed to ‘the tunnel’ proposal, but totally in favour of ‘a tunnel’ plan – provided it’s on the other side of the water. So bring your shovels and let’s start tunnelling.