‘On track’ once more?

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Those of us who regularly use the Coast Road have grown accustomed to motorcades speeding along with flashing lights and blaring horns taking the Prime Minister to work at Auberge de Castille and back. This is the way it should be. The PM’s time is valuable. The Coast Road “enhancement” from the Burmarrad roundabout to Pembroke cemetery is now going to give our Prime Minister a wide, four-lane route all the way to the office and back. Frankly, why the road to Burmarrad – a small hamlet with a handful of houses and farms – needs to be upgraded to four lanes does not make too much sense until you understand that Joseph Muscat lives there. The improvement will further reduce the time the Prime Minister spends commuting. I am told that in order to come up with Malta’s financial contribution to the funding of this project, all the ministries budgets were cut by €1 million each. Taking funds from health, education and social services to speed the Prime Minister’s daily commute is unconscionable. It is especially unacceptable at a time when these areas already suffer from a serious lack of funds. The remaining €53 million for the road is to be supplied by the EU if stringent conditions are met. Those who work in the EU know that to get €53 million for a road, you will need to compromise on many other issues. We can only guess as to what the Prime Minister truly gave up in exchange for this road funding. One important condition for EU funding is that the project must now be finished in about eight months’ time. In the first 18 months of the project, not even half of the road has been completed and even on these parts of the road, the proper barriers and other paraphernalia have yet to be done. Now, in the remaining eight months, the second half of the project must be totally finished along with the work that remains of the first half. The Minister of Transport is a decent man with a big dilemma. Since the project is a total mess and the time remaining is tight, the government has simply resorted to cutting corners. Quite literally. Not losing the EU money has become the prime driving force of this project. The decisions regarding the road are therefore being made in the rash style that has come to signify everything that this Progressive Liberal government does. The constant traffic jams throughout Malta are, at least in part, caused by the time schedule to rush things through. The project that was to improve the Coast Road is turning that which should be a 30-minute drive into a twohour nightmare. However, what is happening to Salina is a prime example of how Transport Malta is, unbelievably, also doing away with all proper procedures and customary civil rights to avoid further delay to the project. There are only two decent roads to Salina. Both give access to the Coast Road. The residents of Salina were told that these roads would be removed permanently less than 24 hours before the roads were due for demolition. The only access left is a small dangerous track that Transport Malta and Mepa themselves do not even recognise as an official thoroughfare. Despite the dramatic effect that the plans will have on the residents of Salina, or maybe because of this, the crucial plans keep changing daily. To avoid any legal protest, Transport Malta did away with the mandatory public consultation for the removal and destruction of roads outside the permit of the Coast road enhancements. MEPA has not issued the necessary legal permits for this work, yet Transport Malta insists that it can all be carried out. The demolition was only prevented so far because the residents were resourceful enough to get a court injunction that temporarily prevents the removal of the ramps at Triq Ximenes. But again, those who know how our justice system works, knows that injunctions are easily removed if one promises to ensure that any reason to uphold the injunction will not happen. To get the injunction removed, an official at Transport Malta might have even committed perjury regarding the plans for the road. That is how bad cutting corners can get. (More of this will no doubt come into the public domain in the coming days once the judge’s decision is final and in writing). The injunction and protests finally forced the Minister for Transport to allow a representation of the people to put their complaints forward. The Salina residents also tried to reason with the government in a serious manner. He permitted a measly 18 minutes for the representative to talk and the atmosphere was not conducive at all. We spoke. He did not listen. “Il Gvern li jisma… ma semax.” When a question was addressed to the minister in Parliament that highlighted the concerns of Salina residents’, he simply chose to sidestep the question too and gave an answer that was completely irrelevant. The citizens commissioned an expert, who until a few weeks ago worked for Mepa, to prove that the government and TM had perfectly viable alternatives at hand. The expert confirmed that one only has to re-draw 300 metres of the Coast Road on the plan itself and simply move them by just two feet on the drawing (to actually match where the physical road lies presently!) This change on a drawing would allow the Coast road’s extra lanes to be built while leaving the residents with their two present safe access roads to Salina. This is a simple amendment, just on a plan and not a physical one. It will ensure that the residents of Salina would not be cut of from the rest of Malta. It would certainly be far cheaper than removing their present safe access unnecessary and illegally. This idea was not accepted. Other alternatives that make total sense and are totally viable were also not accepted. Road changes like this impact real people. Permanently. One resident with Parkinson’s disease and another with severe arthritis will lose their bus stop. Instead of having a bus stop a few metres outside their homes, they will now be forced to walk a kilometre to a catch bus to go and buy essentials and take the shopping back home. The safe and easy access to ambulance transport that they need and have will be harder now if not impossible to keep. Many others will be forced to go to work or take their children to school via a more dangerous and longer road with no lights, no pavement down a single non asphalted track where only one car passes at a time yet will have to cope with two-way traffic. The people living along the Prime Minister’s commute would normally be the beneficiaries of such a change. They do not object to the project at all and are the ones that have most to gain from it. But, the way the project is being conducted, they will lose safe access to their homes. And, if the project isn’t completed on time and the EU funds don’t materialise, which seems likely, who will end up paying for this government’s repeated mistakes? The taxpayers of Malta – you and I. Although cheaper and safer alternatives are available, the government persists in its erroneous ways; no wonder then that the people’s perception is that all this much needed money must be spent so that the Prime Minister’s daily commute will be just a few minutes shorter.

First Published on The Malta Independent on 30/11/15