No social impact assessment yet for Msida flyovers

IM spokesperson insists three pedestrian bridges instead of Msida traffic lights will provide pedestrians with the highest level of road safety

The Msida Creek project proposed by Infrastructure Malta will see the construction of two massive flyovers to remove the traffic lights junction. A coalition of NGOs wants the plans scrapped to prioritise open space and pedestrians instead
The Msida Creek project proposed by Infrastructure Malta will see the construction of two massive flyovers to remove the traffic lights junction. A coalition of NGOs wants the plans scrapped to prioritise open space and pedestrians instead

A Social Impact Assessment on a project set to include two 175m flyovers and three pedestrian bridges has not yet been commissioned on a call for tenders for the proposed Msida flyover.

The Msida Creek Project foresees the reconstruction of the junction connecting the Marina, Valley and Mikiel Anton Vassalli roads, and the upgrading of nearby junctions with other roads leading to and from Gżira, Sliema and Ta’ Xbiex.

Over 4,500 vehicles go through the Msida Creek traffic lights junction every hour to travel to and from Valletta and other nearby localities while thousands of pedestrians including students use the traffic lights.

Social impact assessments are meant to assess the impact of major infrastructural projects on communities through quantitative surveys and interviews with residents and stakeholders, with recommendations on how to assess concerns. Although there are no clear guidelines on when an SIA should be conducted, IM had commissioned an SIA at the early stages of the Central Link project.

Infrastructure Malta has told MaltaToday it has held numerous consultations with the Msida and Pietà councils, and that it will continue consulting different stakeholders. “IM will also duly commission all studies that will be requested by the planning and environmental authorities during this process.”

IM has already finalised a Traffic Impact Study and a Road Safety Audit “to ensure that the new infrastructure can efficiently and safely meet the current and future transport requirements in this area”, which “considered the impacts of the proposed project and its new infrastructure, including footbridges, on all road users, including pedestrians”.

The studies have yet not been published on the PA’s website. A call for tenders for the project has already been published, while the planning application was still at the screening stage.

IM claims the proposed road design will eliminate traffic-light waiting times and reduce travel times and accident risks, whilst improving air quality in this part of Msida and other nearby areas.

But a coalition of 10 NGOs and academics warned that the flyovers dissecting the square will penalise the most vulnerable people and local communities. The NGOS warned that the use of lifts and stairs to cross the bridges above the vehicular traffic will further hinder the movement of those choosing to cycle, while penalising persons with reduced mobility including people with a pushchair or young child, “forcing them back to cars as a transportation mode”.

One of the pedestrian bridges will provide access from the bus layby along the southbound carriageway of Triq il-Marina, towards Triq il-Baċir, along the route used by many students to get to the Junior College. The second one will connect the Parish Church area with the new public garden next to the Workers’ Memorial. A third pedestrian bridge will connect the new parking area and the new public garden in the Workers’ Memorial area.

IM said the elevators of the three bridges will be spacious enough to fit bicycles, wheelchairs and pushchairs. To ensure their reliability, IM will enter into an extensive service contract for the maintenance and upkeep of these elevators, which will provide for a rapid response service in case of machinery breakdown as well as regular maintenance during off peak hours, with least possible inconveniences to commuters. The design of the three bridges was also updated to include bicycle stair access ramps, in case the elevators are not available.

The project also includes “a new seafront cycling and walking track connecting Pieta with Ta’ Xbiex”, to give pedestrians “the highest level of road safety when travelling from this part of Msida to several other nearby areas”.

IM also claims the project will benefit pedestrians by separating the major traffic flows from the local traffic flow movements by segregating them on two levels. “This reduces the potential conflicts with other local traffic, pedestrians, public transport commuters and cyclists. It will also transform this urban space because the major flow will be separated at another level, leaving the Msida Creek open space more accessible for local commuting.”

Overall, according to IM, the new junction “will improve the quality of the commute experience of thousands of road users by reducing congestion and related noise and air pollution.”

But NGOs have expressed their disappointment that the project as proposed does not maximise existing open spaces by enlarging the kiosk areas, which are popular in the summer months, “with the sound of tombola numbers echoing in the summer nights”.

Instead the NGOs have proposed that the project be limited to an improved public transport interchange, coupled with a major public open space, as suggested in the local plan.

IM insists that although the public garden will be relocated, the total area of green open spaces, partly overshadowed by the new flyovers, will increase from the current 7,250 square metres to 8,008 square metres.

According to IM the existing public garden and playing field will be rebuilt in a new design, in collaboration with the Msida council.

The existing premises of the Msida Bocci Club will remain in the same location and will be rebuilt with the support of another government entity. The project also includes a massive 3,716sq.m car park that includes the new bus interchange. This will increase the current 82 parking bays to 120 by optimising existing spaces, with also accommodating a new bus interchange.

IM said the redesign of the public garden and parking area is necessitated by the need of a new stormwater system to alleviate the long-standing flooding problem in the area, which requires certain ground levels to be raised.