No EIA needed for Msida flyover project, ERA says

The Environment Resources Authority says the Msida Creek project will increase traffic but result in 'future short-term improvement in air quality'

The proposed Msida Creek project will see the construction of two massive flyovers to remove the traffic lights junction
The proposed Msida Creek project will see the construction of two massive flyovers to remove the traffic lights junction

The Msida Creek project will increase traffic but result in “future short-term improvement in air quality”, the Environment Resources Authority said. The regulator said the flyover project will not require an Environment Impact Assessment as long as a number of conditions, including a landscaping plan, are adhered to.

It means Infrastructure Malta will not need to carry out detailed studies on the various environmental impacts of the project, including a public consultation on the terms of reference for such studies and town hall meetings.

“Although traffic is envisaged to increase, traffic flows will be more continuous and vehicles will spend less time along the roads,” the screening report – in which the ERA endorsed the project through its no-objection – states.

The project will entail the removal of 430 trees and shrubs, of which 26 are proposed for transplanting. These include 180 protected trees and shrubs, which will be uprooted; they include three pine trees, six cypress trees, 13 Judas trees, an oak tree and 154 oleanders.

313 new indigenous trees will be planted to compensate for the loss. But the ERA acknowledged that the removal of this “significant amount of mature trees will drastically alter the landscape and reduce the capacity of ecosystem services provided by trees to such a highly urbanised area.”

The ERA expressed concern on the uptake of 480sq.m of a Valley Road field currently used for agriculture, outside the building zones, to accommodate a proposed roundabout at Valley Road in Msida, but noted that the land take-up had been limited to a bare minimum. The site is immediately adjacent to a Tree Protection Area which hosts a number of rare and historic English oak trees, whose trunks are over 1m in diameter. These trees provide a refuge in this predominantly urban area for avifauna, especially due to their large size and location next to a water reservoir.

Whilst none of these oak trees will be uprooted, ERA called on IM to ensure that all measures are taken to limit disturbance from the construction works to this habitat, and to strictly avoid any damage to the root systems of these trees.

The ERA report fell short of vetoing a large parking area next to the Workers’ monument, even if it acknowledged that the “car parking area, as currently proposed, is extensive and conflicts with the designation for this public area.”

But it said it was not opposed to its inclusion, providing space for 100 cars, due to the current pressures within the area as long as further improvements are done through landscaping.

While exempting the project from an EIA, the ERA called for some changes: more landscaping in the proposed car park, the use of noise barriers and noise-reducing asphalt in the flyover, and the presentation of a plan showing the connectivity of the proposed footpaths and cycling lanes.

The proposed landscaping should also include green walls, green embankments, and the greening of the flyover and its pillars to obtain green corridors.

In its screening report, ERA did not address concerns expressed by environmentalists and academics on the social impact of the project, particularly mobility problems posed by pedestrian bridge, to vulnerable categories like the elderly and pedestrians with young children who will be forced to climb stairs or use lifts to cross the road.

The report simply acknowledges that the introduction of the flyover, parking area and passenger bridges will introduce “sizeable structures which will be highly visible from the surrounding area”.

IM says the pedestrian bridges improve safety and accessibility for pedestrians and public transport by reducing “the stoppages and interruptions to the traffic flows”.

When previously asked by MaltaToday whether it intends to conduct a Social Impact Assessment on the project, IM had replied that no such study has been commissioned. “IM will duly commission all studies that will be requested by the planning and environmental authorities during this process,” a spokesperson said.

Social impact assessments do not fall under the ERA’s remit but may be called for by the Planning Authority.

The Msida Creek project will consist in the construction of a flyover connecting M. A. Vassalli Road with Marina Road, with one lane in each direction, three lanes passing beneath the flyover, one of which flowing from Marina Road to the Rue d’Argens and back; a second bus priority lane and a third for Valley Road traffic flowing into Rue d’Argens and Marina Road. A footpath will connect Msida skatepark to the Msida junction, while a car park will be built along Marina Road.

An area of 274sq.m will be reclaimed from the existing marina for changes to road alignments and the inclusion of the car parking area.