Updated | Borg says Lija roadworks will reduce traffic congestion • Herrera promises more trees will be planted

As environmentalists decry holm oak trees destruction, Transport Ministry speaks of road widening works to alleviate traffic congestion • Environment Ministry issues separate statement confirming ‘further trees’ will be planted in Lija

The holm oak trees were removed to expand the south-bound carriageway in Lija
The holm oak trees were removed to expand the south-bound carriageway in Lija

Whilst the chorus of disapproval against the destruction of holm oak trees in Lija continues to grow, the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure has issued a statement to describe how the road widening works will help alleviate traffic congestion.

The trees were cut down to make way for an additional south-bound carriageway, aimed at easing the traffic flow – and traffic jams – in the area leading to the Lija roundabout and on to the Birkirkara bypass and Naxxar Road.

The trees – some of them 100 years old – were summarily cut down, when there were other alternatives that would have resulted in the trees being saved environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino has told MaltaToday.

According to Baldacchino the trees – and the 1.5m-wide strip they were on – also served to slow down the water that inadvertently accumulates in the area from Iklin, Mosta and Lija during heavy rainfall.

In its statement, the ministry however argued that some 2,400 vehicles pass through the road every hour and parts of it are not wide enough to support the traffic.

The works, the ministry said, serve to create new lanes with one of them intended for motorists coming from Mosta and Naxxar to drive straight onto the Birkirkara bypass without stopping at the roundabout. The works are expected to improve access to and fro Lija, Iklin and surrounding localities.

The works are expected to be finalised in August.

But on its part, in a statement issued hours later, the Environment Ministry said the government was committed to ensuring that environmental aspects are given “due consideration” and ascertain that adequate measures are taken during the planning and implementation of important infrastructural projects.

“Particularly, in the upgrading of the Lija junction and road leading to it, alternative corrective measures are being taken by Transport Malta to plant further trees in the Lija/Iklin area, in view of the physical restrictions brought by the addition of a new lane,” José Herrera’s ministry said.

It insisted that the uprooting of trees in Lija junction was in line with the parameters of Schedule II of the Trees and Woodlands (Protection) Regulations, 2011.

 “As outlined by ERA, The Trees and Woodlands (Protection) Regulations, 2011 clearly state that Holm Oak trees (Quercus ilex) are specifically protected in sites outside the development zone (ODZ) and in protected areas, and also that any trees older than 50 years are protected in protected areas, ODZ and Urban Conservation Areas (UCA),” the ministry said.

Herrera has come under fire from Baldacchino, who he accused him of failing to deliver on a pledge to reinstate in law the protection of indigenous trees.

On his part, Transport Minister Ian Borg reiterated that more road works will be announced in the coming weeks and months to improve the island’s arterial roads.

“Every minute in traffic is a wasted minute for everyone. We are currently looking at every problematic area to identify solutions that reduce delays,” the minister said.

Borg added that he was pressing the responsible authorities to search for viable solutions that can be implemented as soon as possible.

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