A tunnel linking Malta to Gozo looks to be the most viable option, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said today.
Addressing a conference in Gozo organised by the pro-tunnel movement, Dr Muscat said the government intends to move forward with a project linking the two islands.
Dr Muscat said that while he agrees with the project, all the necessary studies need to be carried out first, including geological studies.
Time to introduce a fast ferry service between the two islands.
The government will also look at different ownership models, and cited the possibility of a public-private partnership.
Dr Muscat said the tunnel would need to be part of a wider transport network on both islands. He warned that the controversy over the project will likely ramp up in the coming months.
The first task he said, is seeing how to fund all the necessary studies which will costs millions. He said the link would have to be used at a fee to guarantee its financial viability.
He recalled that the Chinese government had agreed to fund a feasibility study for a bridge, but agreed that the tunnel seems to be the most viable option.
Dr Muscat said the future of the Gozo Channel service also needs to be considered. He said it is time to introduce a fast ferry service between the two islands.
Tunnel requires national consensus - Busuttil
A tunnel linking Malta to Gozo should be considered as a project of national interest, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said during the same conference.
But he said that a consensual approach should be taken to the controversial project.
He said the PN is in favour of the project and willing to cooperate with the government.
The tunnel was first proposed by the previous administration but the studies had been put on hold by the present administration, he said.
'Queue of consortia' interested - Chamber
Gozo business chamber president Michael Grech said there is a "queue" of foreign consortia, spanning Europe and the Far East, interested in taking on the project.
Mr Grech pointed out that even if the use of the tunnel comes at a cost equivalent to using the Gozo ferry, one must take the time-saving factor into account.
Joe Muscat from the Gozo Tourism Association said that while some stakeholders such as restaurants believe a tunnel would generate more business, others are more hesitant.
When it comes to hotels, some are in favour of the project and others are against he said.
He explained that the main worry of objectors of having a permanent link is that Gozo will lose its unique character.
Geologist Peter Gatt warned that the necessary geological studies need to be carried out over a number of years.
Gozo Channel chairman Joe Cordina said that the service is carrying an ever-increasing number of passengers. He said that if passenger traffic keeps increasing the company will have to evaluate if three boats servicing the two islands was enough.
However, he pointed out that the company does not have the funding to replace its current vessels, which will have to be done at some point.