The first part of the controversial €55 million Central Link project meant to take traffic away from the Attard village core will open by the end of September.

A spokesperson for state agency Infrastructure Malta, which is piloting the project, said that within a few weeks motorists will be able to use two new lanes linking the junction near San Anton Gardens to Wied Inċita nursery in Attard

This will be the first step to eliminate the bottleneck at Triq in-Nutar Zarb.

It may be good news for motorists but the project comes at an environmental cost. Practically the whole stretch of new road on the outskirts of the village is being built on virgin land, most of which agricultural.

An estimated 49,000 square metres of land will be taken up by the new road, though the government insists this is less than the original plans drafted in 2006.

It also says that half of the land will be landscaped, with 10,500 square metres used for cycle lanes and 11,000 for footpaths.

The project, which aims to reduce travel time by half, will also see the reconstruction of 13 existing junctions and the removal of four sets of traffic lights.

Apart from the take-up of land, the stretch between Saqqajja Hill and the Mrieħel Bypass will result in the uprooting of almost 455 mature trees along the route. The total could have been even higher were it not for various revisions of the plans in the wake of the public outrage triggered when they first came to light.

'Uprooted trees will be transplanted'

Infrastructure Malta is pledging that many of the uprooted trees will be transplanted while the so-called invasive species will be replaced by indigenous ones.

Exposure to traffic emissions will increase

The new trees will include mature ones in line with the contract that binds the developer to plant trees approximately four metres high. Over 580 trees will be planted to compensate for those destroyed.

Environmentalists, NGOs and residents, who will be directly affected by the new road, had taken part in a vociferous campaign against the project and had mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge against the permit.

They insist that contrary to the government’s claims, their exposure to traffic emissions will increase as residents will be sandwiched between two arterial thoroughfares – the new one and Triq iż-Żagħfran which will remain in use.

Such concerns have been brushed away by the government which is citing studies that say particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide – the two main toxic substances generated from traffic – will be down by 66 per cent and 41 per cent res-pectively by 2030.

Doing nothing would result in emissions almost trebling within a decade, the agency adds.

Another argument against the project was that in the long term it would still promote the use of private vehicles rather than mass transportation systems, thus failing to promote sustainable and clean forms of transport.

In response, Infrastructure Malta points to 10 kilometres of footpaths and crossings and the longest segregated cycling track in the island.

The project has also been criticised over the decision to ignore the possibility of constructing a tunnel but the government dismissed that option as not being cost-effective.

Infrastructure Malta cited a study by economist Gordon Cordina which concluded that for every €1 million spent, “families and businesses” would get €16 million back in cleaner air, reduced travel time, improved safety and lower fuel costs.

The entire Central Link project is scheduled to be completed this time next year.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us