Both political parties currently appear to be intent on including a fixed link - a tunnel - to Gozo in their manifestos for the next election. This means that the winning party could claim that it had a mandate from the voters to build one.
This, however, will not be the truth, for the electorate will have had no opportunity to vote against a tunnel.
In Britain, this is known as Hobson’s Choice, which actually means no choice at all - take it or leave it, rather like the old joke about the first Ford cars: “Any colour you like, so long as it’s black.”
The proposed party options are slightly different. Simon Busutttil’s latest brainwave is for a rail link between the islands, although he hasn’t thought through the problem that both passengers and goods would need vehicles waiting at either end, nor that if you could build an underground railroad it would be far simpler to have cars and lorries - rather than locomotives - running where the trains would be.
Joseph Muscat, on the other hand, wants just a road; he hasn’t said, yet, how many lanes he envisages, and therefore how wide it might need to be.
Neither party has said that it has taken into account the availability of access in the inevitable event of an accident, under the sea.
People on ‘the mainland’ would be more likely to want a tunnel than those on Gozo who fear its negative and harmful effects
In either case, however, the vote is tunnel or no tunnel. The only way to vote against having one is not to vote for either party - which is no choice at all.
Not even a referendum would solve this dilemma, for the non-voters (the people who can’t be bothered, or those who can’t vote) could readily be assumed to be against the project - on the basis that if they really wanted one, they would have voted for one, whereas the pro-tunnel faction would make a point of making their mark.
Another factor is that people on ‘the mainland’ would be more likely to want a tunnel than those on Gozo who fear its negative and harmful effects - on the increased traffic, the decline of their economy, and the end of Gozo’s special insularity, in that it is quite different, distinct from, and more attractive than its ‘sister island’.
The ball is now actually in Busuttil’s court. The government appears committed - insofar as it is currently seeking tenders for an accurate geological mapping of the channel, many months after it, and all the hanger-on lobby groups, had declared the project to be ‘feasible’.
Hopefully, the experts will be aware of the slight but constant movements of geological plates that separate Europe from Africa, within the proximity of this area (and they will identify the ‘missing’ 50-metre layer of rock).
What the Opposition can do - incredibly easily - is to drop the subject completely: if the PL says it is in favour of a tunnel and the PN does not, the voters have a clear choice, at least on that subject.
If asked about the project, Busuttil can say it is not currently on the cards, although it might, at some distant date, be possible to link it to the Malta metro system.
There is now a clear call for a metro, or something similar, on the south island, which is where the biggest problem with transport - including traffic from Gozo - remains. There is, after all, little point in creating easier transit from Gozo, if traffic can’t move on Malta. And congestion on the south island is far more important and urgent than any fanciful channel tunnelling scheme (just as congestion on Gozo would be horrific if there were a road link).
Of necessity, a Maltese metro would include tunnels. That’s the place for the tunnel fanatics to build them.
Let’s see how Maltese tunnelling works, on land, before contemplating any underwater undertaking.
In other words, let Malta get its own house in order before it embarks on plans that will ultimately destroy the ‘quieter, cleaner, greener’ island of Calypso.
Revel Barker is an author and publisher.
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