Updated at 4.31pm with fresh question in parliament
Part of the Mellieħa Bypass is being narrowed to a single lane to make way for a road meant to serve a massive private development spearheaded by GAP Holdings.
Apart from creating a bottleneck in a major thoroughfare, the decision is also controversial, as it contrasts with the government policy of widening existing arterial roads to mitigate traffic congestion.
Only on Wednesday, Transport Minister Ian Borg announced a €5 million project to add more lanes to the Marsa-Ħamrun bypass.
The issue of Triq Lewis Wettinger, as it is called, was raised in Parliament on Monday by Opposition MP and former Mellieħa mayor Robert Cutajar.
The affected area has become notorious for speeding offences
He asked Transport Minister Ian Borg to clarify the nature of ongoing work on part of the Mellieħa bypass adjacent to a massive block of 152 apartments in the area known as Ta’ Masrija.
He noted that some months ago traffic heading towards Selmun had been limited to a single lane and questioned if this was just a temporary measure pending the completion of the private development.
However, in his reply, the minister confirmed that the arrangement was there to stay as part of a review of the Ta’ Masrija planning policy that was approved three years ago.
Dr Borg justified the decision to sacrifice part of the Mellieħa bypass for the construction of a service road on the grounds that it was being done to address an “anomaly”.
He noted that the affected area had become notorious for speeding offences, and reducing it to a single land would address the problem.
However, the minister’s reply raised eyebrows, with Mr Cutajar telling this newspaper that the decision was “obscene”, as it “insulted people’s intelligence”.
“The reply given is far off the truth,” he said, pointing out that prior to the 2013 general election, when he was still mayor,, the Mellieħa council had resisted massive developments of this area as well as changes to the Ta’ Masrija policy.
However, the scenario had changed completely with the blessing of the Labour-led council, he said.
Meanwhile, the issue has also fuelled a debate on Facebook, with many Mellieħa residents questioning the decision to sacrifice part of the bypass seemingly to accommodate a developer.
Criticism has also been levelled from a road safety perspective, given that the new arrangement will create a bottleneck in a bend where visibility at night is poor, since it lacks street lighting.
ISSUE RAISED IN PARLIAMENT ONCE MORE
Mr Cutajar complained about the road narrowing once more in Parliament on Wednesday after Dr Borg spoke on how the government was widening the roads to ease congestion and also ease released pollution problems.
The minister said the Coast Road and Kappara projects had had beneficial effects and action was now being taken to widen the Hamrun-Marsa bypass with a new lane on both sides because of congestion which was made worse by the easier flow in the Kappara project.
This road widening would also link-up with the Marsa junction project, which was proceeding well.
Mr Cutajar observed that while roads were being widened, the Mellieha bypass was being narrowed, with the government’s blessing. The common good was being ignored in the interests of accommodating a few people.
This was an obscenity which needed to be reversed.
Dr Borg said the parliamentary question he had been asked (on Monday), and the reply he gave, were clear, but he would look into the circumstances and would continue to work on addressing bottlenecks.
Mr Cutajar said he had asked in his question whether the narrowing of the Mellieha bypass was permanent or temporary and the minister had said it was permanent.
Dr Borg said the road from Mellieħa to Ċirkewwa was all one way, something which frustrated many people. Mr Cutajar had not complained when that was done.