Nearly 2,000 people have signed a parliamentary petition opposing the planned tunnel between Malta and Gozo, which they claim would cause “irreversible harm”.
The petition calls on legislators to prevent the permanent link from being built, warning that the tunnel would bring with it increased traffic, noise and air pollution.
“The tunnel means fewer unspoiled areas, parking spaces and affordable places to live,” the petition states. “The tunnel means the destruction of Gozo as we know it, simply to line the pockets of private investors, developers and speculators.”
The petition also questions why there has been no consultation period or referendum, why alternatives such as a fast ferry or catamaran were not considered, and why the Gozitan people had not been asked for their opinions.
“This island has a precious and unique charm - we must not let it be spoiled by greed,” it states.
Government plans for a 13-kilometre tunnel running from Manikata to Nadur, which could be completed within five years, have drawn criticism over the effect of increased traffic on the sister island, as well as environmental impacts at the entrance and exit points.
Critics have also raised concern about the massive amount of construction waste the project would generate and the controversial prospect of land reclamation being presented as the only means of addressing the issue.
Studies, however, have consistently pointed to high levels of support for the project.
A Social Impact Assessment carried out by Marvin Formosa in 2017 found that around 82 per cent of Gozitan respondents were in favour of the tunnel, with most citing reduced travelling times between the two islands and the lack of weather-related disruption compared to the ferry.
A later study by Vincent Marmara for Transport Malta confirmed these conclusions and also found similar levels of support among Maltese people. The vast majority of respondents said they would travel between Malta and Gozo more frequently if the tunnel were to be built.
Although environmental studies are still being carried out, the government has made clear its intentions to forge ahead with the project, with a call for tenders planned to be issued in the coming months.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said the tunnel will be followed by the introduction of free public transport linking Gozo to the airport, Mater Dei Hospital and other strategic locations across Malta, but has ruled out the inclusion of a rail system.