Court reaffirms Central Link Project
Infrastructure Malta welcomes the court decision to definitively turn down an appeal against the Central Link Project, reiterating its commitment to implement this long-awaited project as soon as possible, for a better quality of life for thousands of residents in Attard, Balzan, Birkirkara, Mriehel and other nearby localities.
Wednesday’s court decision is the fifth consecutive affirmation of this project, despite several attempts by a few individuals intent on stopping its implementation in recent months. Last year, the Central Link Project plans were approved by the Planning Authority, reviewed and confirmed for funding by the European Commission and reaffirmed by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. In December, the court also rejected a request to temporarily stop the project, confirming that Infrastructure Malta should not have been impeded from implementing it, despite any pending appeals by third parties.
The road upgrade being implemented through the Central Link Project plans is listed as a priority project in the 2025 Transport Masterplan and in the 2006 Central Malta Local Plan.
In its decision on Wednesday, the court rejected all arguments put forward by a group of organisations and a few individuals in their appeal to stop the project.
Commenting on the way forward, Ing. Fredrick Azzopardi explained that this decision reaffirms the diligent procedures followed by the Infrastructure Malta team and several other entities and authorities to plan the design and implementation of the project. “We consulted all stakeholders and were always ready to incorporate feasible improvements to amplify this project’s benefits. Our doors are open to further suggestions even during implementation stage, where our main objective is to build this new infrastructure to the best possible quality levels in a reasonable timeframe, and with minimal adverse impacts on nearby communities. We are working hand in hand with the Planning Authority, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Environment and Resources Authority to ensure that the project will have a long-term positive impact on the area’s natural and cultural heritage as well.”
Ing. Azzopardi reiterated Infrastructure Malta’s commitment to implement the Central Link Project. “This investment is supported by a vast majority of people in Malta, as population surveys carried out in 2018, 2019 and last week confirmed. Residents and road users have been suffering the consequences of the existing route’s infrastructural limitations for decades. Excessive congestion in narrow arterial roads that have long exceeded their capacity are increasing travel time and fuel consumption, with a resulting increase in air and noise pollution, accident risks and other significant health and financial consequences. Thousands of families have long been waiting for this investment to take place.”
Infrastructure Malta’s CEO thanked all individuals and organisations who have been contributing to this project since 2018. A study by economist Gordon Cordina has identified the Central Link Project as the most beneficial road investment that is being implemented in Malta. In fact, for every €1 million allocated to this project, families and businesses in Malta will get back €16 million in cleaner air, reduced travel time, increased safety and lower fuel costs. This cost to benefit ratio is more than twice the average return of other major ongoing or recently completed road projects, which stands at €7 million benefits for every €1 million spent. Central Link Project will have a much greater positive impact on a larger section of the population currently affected by the congestion problems of the existing road infrastructure.
The project was planned through several technical studies to ensure its sustainability, as well as an Environmental Impact Assessment by independent experts approved by the Environment and Resources Authority. These studies confirmed that the project will halve travel times along this route and significantly reduce air and noise pollution caused by congestion, even when considering future transportation demand.
About the project
Central Link Project is a major Infrastructure Malta investment to upgrade the quality, safety and sustainability of the main arterial route in central Malta, extending from the Mriehel Bypass, along Mdina Road, through Birkirkara, Balzan and Attard, to the roundabout at the foot of Saqqajja Hill, at Ta’ Qali.
This project will halve travel times in this area by reconstructing 13 junctions, removing four traffic lights systems and adding over seven kilometres of new lanes along a 4.3 kilometre road corridor. It also introduces many facilities for alternative modes of travel, including safe pedestrian footpaths and segregated crossings, bus lay-bys and the longest segregated cycle track in the Maltese Islands, connecting Mriehel, Birkirkara, Balzan, Attard and Ta’ Qali.
The scientific studies, conducted as part of an extensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) during the planning process, confirm that existing congestion difficulties faced by thousands of commuters will get worse if existing infrastructure is not improved. In fact, according to these studies, if the existing road network in this area is not upgraded, travelling from Mriehel to Ta’ Qali will take commuters two hours fifteen minutes, advancing at 1.83km/h in gridlock conditions. These studies also project that the improvements introduced by the Central Link Project will reduce existing travel times by 50%, even when considering potential future increases in transport demand.
The air quality study included as part of this assessment, which is based on 2018 air monitoring in several locations along the route, shows the effect of this gridlock situation on the area’s air quality. If the project is not implemented, particulate matter in the area, including Attard and Balzan, will increase by 278% by 2030. Particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are the two main pollutants linked to road transport emissions. By eliminating existing bottlenecks and congested junctions, Central Link Project will reduce particulate matter by up to 66% by 2030, even when considering future transport demand. Similarly, nitrogen dioxide emissions will also decrease by 41%.
The EIA studies also analysed the long-term impacts of the project on the area’s existing flora and fauna. It concludes that “once the newly planted trees establish themselves, the adverse impact [of removing existing trees] during construction phase will gradually phase out. Since there will be more trees than existing, the overall impact is expected to be beneficial in the medium to long term.”
Contrary to rumours that over 600 trees will be uprooted, Infrastructure Malta affirms that 439 trees need to be removed or transplanted as part of this project. Only 67 of these trees are protected and 185 of them will not be discarded but transplanted within the same project area, under the guidance of arborists and other experts in this field. To mitigate this impact, Central Link Project includes the planting of another 587 indigenous trees within the project area, in Mriehel, Birkirkara, Balzan, Attard and Ta’ Qali. This means that once the project is completed, this region will have 333 more trees than there are today. Central Link Project also includes the development of over 51,000m2 of new pedestrian and landscaped areas.
Finally, in addition to the trees that will be planted along the project route, Infrastructure Malta is already planting many more trees in other parts of Malta. In fact, 8,719 trees were planted in 40 urban and rural locations in Malta by the end of 2019. Another 1,200 were planted during the first month of 2020. Many other new trees will be added in other locations during the next few months.