One gridlock too many

n spite of the millions of EU and Malta government funds spent to upgrade the road network, the ordinary citizen is still being treated shabbily when it comes to temporary road closures

The traffic gridlock that Malta experienced last Monday, spread from the road from Pietà to Valletta to several other areas of Malta. If one were to calculate the cost to the country – man-hours of work lost and the extra unnecessary fuel consumption – I dare say the cost would run into millions of euro. Add to this the carbon emissions from stationary cars with their engines running and the cost to the country, I am sure, would be prohibitive.

Many who were dismayed with the inconvenience looked at the gridlock from a personal point of view. As much as 26 bus routes were affected and slow-moving traffic was experienced in other parts of Malta, miles away from where the original gridlock took place. Every driver’s nerves were in tatters.

The maintenance works that caused this gridlock had to be done but the gridlock was the result of bad traffic management that did not provide adequate alternatives to the roads that were closed because of the works being carried out. Transport Malta and Malta Public Transport approved of the alternative routes and the resulting gridlock exposed these regulators as simply amateurs lacking any professionalism.

The fact that within 24 hours, Transport Malta found a solution such that the works could continue and a repetition of the gridlock was avoided the following day speaks volumes. It shows the shabby way that whoever is responsible provides alternative routes when some roads are closed.

Surely Transport Malta must have statistics on the number of cars per hour that pass through Triq l-Independenza in Pietà in various hours of the day and they should have been able to calculate how much traffic the alternative route could take.

I am sure no such study was made and someone ‘guessed’ how the traffic should be diverted without any care about the mathematics involved: the number of cars that would have to opt for the provided ‘diversion’.

Last Monday the roadworks affected a major arterial road and the alternative route – the so-called ‘diversion’ – proved inadequate. But this happens – to a lesser scale – practically every day all over Malta, wherever roads are closed for some reason or other.

Every one who is a pivate car owner meets road ‘diversions’ every day – some are small roadwork jobs, others are road closures because of building works in private sites. In the case of building works, the Local Council involved takes a fee for a permit to close a road and a traffic warden is placed on the site to tell drivers that they cannot proceed down a particular way. Many times this is so obvious with cranes and other machinery in the middle of a road that I wonder what the traffic warden is actually doing ‘directing’ traffic away from the road that has been closed up.

Does anyone provide an alternative route in such cases? Nobody does, of course. In some cases reversing the direction of the flow in a one-way road temporarily during the closure of a road would solve the problem easily. But this is never done. They just leave it to the drivers to find an alternative route.

In one particular case where there was a diversion and the part of the road that was blocked included a bus stop, passengers waited at the bus stop for a bus to appear when the bus had been diverted to follow a somewhat different route. Nobody bothered to make at least a notice at the bus stop telling people of this ‘diversion’.

This attitude has to change.

Otherwise, temporary traffic closures will become one of the most serious issues that irk the Maltese population. In spite of the millions of EU and Malta government funds spent to upgrade the road network, the ordinary citizen is still being treated shabbily when it comes to temporary road closures.

Orbán tenets

In a recent speech delivered in a region of Romania which has a large Hungarian community, Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary, spoke in harsh terms against immigration saying it should be called “population replacement or inundation.”

Giving voice to the belief underlying his nationalism, he opposed the mixing of races, saying: “Migration has split Europe in two”.

It is worth mentioning that in March 2021, Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party quit the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament after a vote that paved the way for it to be suspended or excluded from the group. Orbán responded quickly with a letter, making it clear that his party would not stick around for a vote to kick it out of the group and Fidesz resigned their membership in the EPP group

According to Orbán’s speech, “one half is a world where European and non-European peoples live together. These countries are no longer nations. They are nothing more than a conglomeration of peoples.” He added: “We are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed race.”

While the far-right prime minister has long faced criticism from political opponents and civil society for fanning the flames of racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, his last speech was more explicitly racial than earlier remarks.

That was too much for Orbán’s longtime adviser Zsuzsa Hegedus, who resigned and lambasted the prime minister for “a pure Nazi speech worthy of Goebbels.”

She said the speech could “please even the most bloodthirsty racists” and suggested he was “advocating an openly racist policy that is now unacceptable even for the Western European extreme right.”

While noting that she has long struggled with her role since the prime minister’s ‘illiberal turn’ – and even directly told Orbán about her concerns over an anti-LGBTQ+ law – his latest rhetoric, she said, still ‘surprised’ her.

This backlash from within the close ranks around Orbán was unexpected.

Resignations are uncommon in Orbán’s circles, and open dissent from allies is even more unusual.

Most state and private media in Hungary have been taken over by Orbán allies during his last 12 years in government and people loyal to him head up key institutions across the country in business, academia, media and even NGOs.

This system of patronage has given birth to an elite class of wealthy conservative cronies in Hungary – called ‘Orbán’s oligarchs’ by critics.