Joseph and the amazing Technicolor Dream Bridge

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When it comes to populism and hot air, Joseph Muscat and his ‘moviment’ are trying very hard to outdo the previous government.

Whilst talking about white elephant projects like the Gozo bridge (or is it a tunnel?) and reclaimed land, in MEPA’s CEO words to launch rockets from, Joseph Mucat’s ‘moviment’ of Labour MPs approved the Nationalist Party’s budget which actually reduces government income.

The bridge or tunnel story started last year, with Labour’s Franco Mercieca calling for a it and a priority pass for himself to board the Gozo ferry. Not to be outdone, then Nationalist Minister Chris Said commissioned studies on a tunnel between the islands.

Fast forward to June 2013. Joseph Muscat tells us that the Chinese are going to study the feasibility of the construction of a bridge. 

The recipe for financial disaster is being prepared. There are facts which nobody can deny and which neither the Nationalists nor the ‘moviment’ will spell out.

Fact 1: The populations of Malta and Gozo are too small to sustain such a project. Only around 1,500 vehicles, in each direction, a day use the ferry service.

Fact 2: The costs will be astronomical – running into the hundreds of millions of Euros. Any talk about EU financing is just speculation – anyway, it will mean spending all EU money over years on end on just one project,with zero for all the rest.

Fact 3: To finance the project and the equally astronomical maintenance costs, the toll to use the bridge will probably have to be more than the ferry fare.

Fact 4: Living off the mainland is always somewhat less convenient. There are solutions which make sense for small islands, which do not entail bankrupting a whole country.

What we really need is a sustainable mobility plan for the whole of Malta and Gozo. Considering spending astronomical amounts of money on bridges or tunnels when in the recent past a fast service was for some reason deemed unfeasible is strange. In 1999 a catamaran service called ‘Victoria Express’ was launched with much pomp and ceremony
(http://www.gozochannel.com/pressreleasesdetails.asp?n=65), today this service is nowhere to be seen. Why not reintroduce fast passenger ferries from Gozo to commercial centres in Malta such as Valletta, Sliema, Bugibba and Marsaskala? It is surely much more
sustainable than either a bridge or tunnel.  It will also reduce the need of car trips from the edge of Malta towards the other side of the island.

Joseph Muscat has obviously given up on his campaign promise of ‘jobs in Gozo for the Gozitans’. He is intent on ruining the unique experience Gozo can offer in niche tourism such as diving, boutique hotels in villages and agrotourism. All the talk about IT services and other industries for which distances are no issue seems to have been forgotten.

It is clear that this government wants to continue in its predecessor’s tradition of appeasing the concrete and cement lobbies. From dumping rubble in the sea to getting a World Bank blacklisted Chinese company to cement the Malta-Gozo channel. In the process he is
promising to bring the country to its knees, burning hundreds of millions of Euros, because he prefers grandiose plans than well thought out solutions to tackle the issues of mobility and land use in our country.

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Ralph Cassar is Alternattiva Demokratika Secretary General and spokesperson on energy, industry and transport.

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