Updated 11.51am with Adrian Delia's reaction
Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia has dodged criticism about an overload of road projects causing gridlock, saying that village feasts are also to blame for traffic.
“The traffic jams are not just due to infrastructure work, but also because of closed roads for feasts during the summer months,” Farrugia told Times of Malta.
Persistent traffic jams have been the talk of the town in the past recent weeks, as commuters have faced slow-moving traffic and chaos caused by numerous roadworks scattered across the island.
The issue was further raised on Wednesday morning when Labour MEP and former party leader Alfred Sant took to social media to say that "there are too many public roadworks going on in our streets.”
“This is causing a great sense of frustration, as people get stuck in traffic jams,” the former prime minister said.
But according to Farrugia, frustration with ongoing roadworks is misplaced.
“We receive applications [for road closures] every day in summer for the feasts taking place,” he said. “Last weekend alone we had three, if not four applications asking us to close roads because the festa passes through there.”
“The country needs to decide if we want to have the feasts which have taken place for over the past fifty to sixty years, or not,” he said.
Farrugia was speaking to the media on Wednesday after a press conference on the recent works on the new flyover deck of the Kirkop tunnels and Airport intersection project.
Feasts or no feasts?
Last week motorists were warned that the Santa Venera tunnels would be closed because of the display for the village feast. The announcement raised a wave of frustration from motorists.
On Sunday evening, Transport Malta announced the tunnels would remain open for traffic, with the fireworks display having been cancelled.
Farrugia said the ministry, along with the new Infrastructure Malta CEO are working to ensure most of the maintenance and roadworks are done at night.
“Most of the work on this project (Kirkop tunnels) is done at night, all the flyovers are worked on during the night,” he said.
“Experts and contractors inform us that not all works can be done at night. What can be done at night is done then, works which need to be done during the day are done then, with as little inconvenience as possible.”
“I repeat: roads are closed not just because of infrastructural work, but also because of feasts in summer.”
Project to reduce 74% of travel time
Speaking at the press conference, Farrugia said the Kirkop Tunnels and Airport Intersection Project will reduce travel time in the area by 74 per cent.
“With this ambitious project, we are not only continuing to improve connectivity around the country but also strengthen road safety, ease traffic and reduce travel time,” he said.
Farrugia announced the update to the works alongside parliamentary secretary for European Funds Chris Bonnet and Infrastructure CEO Ivan Falzon.
Farrugia said Infrastructure Malta has begun works on the new flyover deck of the Kirkop Tunnels and Airport Intersection Project (KTAIP), which will offer a direct route from Luqa to the Kirkop tunnels.
The works began on Tuesday night, when the first seven steel structures were lifted into place. The flyover will be 400 meters long and weigh 300 tonnes.
Farrugia said the €18 million project is entering an “intensive phase” with most works being done at night. The project also includes the rebuilding of the Gudja roundabout to introduce a new tunnel to Birżebbuġa and other areas.
He said the project will create easier and safer connections to Luqa, Gudja, Birżebbuġa, Kirkop, Imqabba, Qrendi, Żurrieq and Safi as well as other areas in the vicinity.
It will also improve access to Malta International Airport and the Malta Freeport, two crucial destinations for various sectors of the economy.
The current roadworks in the area around the Malta International Airport has also been a traffic hotspot, with commuters often stuck in gridlock traffic.
The project was announced back in 2019 and works began in 2021.
Bonnet said that €25.6 million, of which €21.9 million are European Funds from the Connecting Europe Facility are being invested in two projects, the Luqa junction project and KTAIP in Luqa and Gudja.
The plan is to open the flyover for use by the end of the year.
Adrian Delia mocks minister
Adrian Delia, the shadow minister for transport, mocked Aaron Farrugia's explanation for the traffic jams.
In a Facebook post, he said the minister was now blaming the saints for the crisis on the roads.
Instead of asking the ministry to solve the traffic problems people now needed to go to church to seek the intercession of the saints, he wrote.
"Minn perċezzjoni issa ħa nduru għal purċissjoni [From perception, we are now turning to procession]" he said, recalling how a Transport Malta official had once said slow traffic was a perception.