[WATCH] Road widening alone won't solve Malta's traffic problem, roads agency chief says

Failure to address the root cause of traffic and to shift people onto alternative modes of transport would see the country’s roads end up in the same situation they are today, says Infrastructure CEO Frederick Azzopardi

Infrastructure Malta CEO Frederick Azzopardi said that once roads have been widened  efforts must be made to ensure a push to alternative modes of transport
Infrastructure Malta CEO Frederick Azzopardi said that once roads have been widened efforts must be made to ensure a push to alternative modes of transport

The widening of roads alone can’t solve Malta’s traffic problem, but it is necessary for the country to address the situation it currently finds itself in, Infrastructure Malta CEO Frederick Azzopardi said on Thursday.

“While it is true that we have sought out certain bottlenecks and certain problematic areas that need to be addressed, we also need a long-term plan that includes alternative modes of transport,” Azzopardi said.

He added that the country could not afford to build new roads and then do nothing for the next three decades, as he said had happened in the past.

Azzopardi was a guest on current affairs programme Xtra Sajf, where he discussed the controversial Central Link Project, which was approved by the Planning Authority last week.

The project’s approval has struck a nerve with the public, with opponents describing it as an environmental catastrophe because of the loss of a considerable number of trees and a relatively large area of agricultural land.

“One point there appears to be consensus on is that there is a traffic problem in Attard that needs to be addressed,” Azzopardi said. “Maybe there is disagreement on how this should be done, but this is what we are doing.”

The project will see two additional lanes built along the stretch of road going from the roundabout at the bottom of the Saqqajja hill in Rabat up until the junction opposite the Malta Financial Services Authority in Mrieħel.

“The problem we have is that if you are coming from the direction of Mrieħel you are passing through a road with four lanes. Once you leave the Saqqajja roundabout, where the project is going to end, you have a road with four lanes. But the whole stretch of road in between has two lanes.

“So, we’re either going to say that these two lanes are missing, or else the lanes on the other roads are extra. It’s a classic bottleneck.”

Azzopardi insisted that the project would allow traffic that has been pushed into the Attard by this bottleneck to continue going straight through.

The Infrastructure Malta CEO rejected claims that no other options had been studied before the final plans were drawn up. He said however that all studies had shown that project in its current format was the most feasible option.

Azzopardi stressed that contrary to what was often said by opponents of the project, the agency had always taken constructive feedback on board.

He said Infrastructure Malta representatives, including himself, had met with farmers and other residents and had heard their concerns, and where possible, had found solutions.

He spoke of one farmer, for example, who has asked whether soil from his field along the road could be transferred to another field he owns which doesn’t have enough soil to be cultivated. Others, he said, had asked whether it would be possible for storm water to be funnel into the fields’ reservoirs.

Responding to claims that the widening of roads would only lead to an increase in cars, Azzopardi said that cars on Maltese roads had continued to increase irrespective of how wide the roads were. “Before we made roads narrower and cars continued to increase, and now we are widening roads and people are saying cars are going to increase, so its not really about how wide the roads are.”

Finally, Azzopardi noted that economist Gordon Cordina had been engaged to analyse seven specific projects and determine the return on investment the country could expect from them. He said that while on average, it was estimated that the country would get €7 back for every €1 invested, this went up to €16 for the Central Link Project.

Asked whether the resistance and some people’s feelings about the project had been underestimated, Azzopardi said that this was definitely the case.

“Yes, there are some groups who we probably should have gotten onboard from the very first day,” he said, adding however that Infrastructure Malta’s  door would remain open and that the agency would always look to find a balance between different views.

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