Underground Tunnels Might Be The Solution To Solve Malta’s Traffic Problem
There is no arguing with the fact that Malta’s traffic congestion is getting worse year after year
The Government is trying it’s best to minimize the inconvenience and in certain areas it has already managed to eradicate traffic jams, take for example the Kappara roundabout which was a necessary nightmare for thousands of people who had no other way to travel between St Julian’s area towards University, this was resolved by the addition of one flyover.
The Marsa junction which created havoc at times especially during morning rush hours for anyone wanting to travel from the south towards the central of Malta will also hopefully be resolved as a number of flyovers are being constructed. Other junctions and roads around Malta have seen a number of additional lanes included to ensure a steady flow of traffic, there is no arguing that this strategy is working for the medium term.
But what will happen in, say 10 to 20 years time, if the present increase in population and car ownership continues to increase steadily? There is no way the present infrastructure will continue to cope and Malta may end up in a gridlock making it impossible to reach certain areas and having an adverse negative impact on both the drivers themselves and also on the economy which certainly depends on an efficient travel system.
Many are proposing and insisting on the creation of a Metro system
But let’s face it, this will probably have zero to minimal impact on traffic congestion, there is no way that the Maltese who are accustomed to ride in their car, preferably parked in front of their home, drive to wherever they want to go at whatever time is convenient for them, park, preferably in front of their destination, lock their car and go to work, shopping or wherever.
The only people who will start using the Metro, if this project ever becomes a reality, are the same people who are using the public transport system at the moment.
Let’s be realistic, there is no way any educational campaign, no matter how aggressive or persuasive, can persuade people to carpool, even if they live in the same street and go to the same workplace, there is no way anyone with let their neighbors share their car to work, “What if I have to leave early?” or “Why should I allow my neighbor in my car, mine is much more comfortable than his?” are definitely thoughts going through the minds of many Maltese drivers when someone suggests carpooling.
Others have suggested drastic measures
Such as a system whereby number plates starting with odd and even numbers are allowed road usage on certain days. This will never ever materialize in Malta, why? Because politicians will never take such a drastic stance guaranteed to lose thousands of votes to whoever legislates this way to minimize car usage.
The only solution is to build a better road infrastructure that can cope with the ever increasing car ownership. The present system of road widening and building flyovers is having a positive impact, however road widening is limited as roads passing through heavy urbanized areas will not be able to take advantage of these strategies and the building of flyovers would have an even larger impact on traffic until the flyover itself is built.
This leaves us with one viable solution, the building of underground tunnels
This strategy is being implemented all over the major cities in Europe and even in the U.S. where traffic sometimes becomes completely gridlocked. Rome, Paris and Los Angeles seem to be adopting this strategy to solve access problems to inner city areas by cars.
The creation of Tunnels entails minimal disruption to traffic until the underground roads are completed, unlike overhead flyovers which would disrupt traffic until they are completed.
Paris and Los Angeles are currently developing new urban expressways using these concepts
Tunnels are expensive, but steady advances in tunneling technology have greatly reduced their cost. New techniques for digging and tunnel creation are being developed and this seems to be the way forward for congested cities.
Modern boring machines are now more reliable and faster, thus managing the digging of tunnels in record time. The Trans-Tokyo bay tunnel which runs for 9.6 kilometers is a prime example and this was built in record time back in 1997, since then the technology has advanced further.
The Trans-Tokyo bay tunnel is one of the prime examples of a most successful system ever devised to minimize congestion. Before the tunnel opened, one had to drive around about 100 km along the shores of Tokyo Bay and pass through downtown Tokyo to reach the other side of Tokyo which was practically a nightmare for most and was bringing traffic congestion and pollution to record levels in these areas.
Tunnels already exist in Malta, yes they do
Many would say that Tunnels are not practical in Malta, but did you know that many tunnels have already been dug up beneath us during the past years?
Service providers such as Enemalta had dug massive tunnels which allow vehicles and personnel to pass through from Marsa to Delimara, thus connecting the two major power stations together. Another tunnel connects Marsa to Qormi and another one links up to Mater Dei hospital.
The above photo shows the Marsa-Qormi tunnel
(photo credit: enemalta.com.mt)
These are, of course, not accessible to the general public and were not designed to withstand any major traffic, but this is a prime example of a can-do attitude which resolved a problem without creating any congestion for traffic whilst works were being carried out.
In the past, the principal challenge in tunneling was breaking up the hard rock and getting the debris out. Now with road headers (relatively simple machines that deploy a large grinder on an arm and a conveyor belt) and with simple mechanical excavators and precise explosives that move the toughest rock, expensive TBMs and large shields are sometimes not even necessary. The greatest challenges are handling water and minimizing cost by choosing right-sized support methods and walling.
Another major advance in tunneling is the invention of the jet fan for ventilation. So named because it looks like the jet engine of an aircraft, a jet fan is hung from the ceiling at intervals along the tunnel and moves the dirty air along it. The air can be vented out one end, taken to vertical exhaust risers, or diverted into treatment channels and replaced, clean, in the tunnel.
On all but the very longest tunnels, jet fans allow the tunnel builders to dispense with the plenum, the separate longitudinal ducting above a false ceiling that has traditionally been used to ventilate tunnels. That can reduce the quantity of excavation and construction by 20 percent and thus cut capital costs by comparable amounts.
What about the debris and waste disposal?
One of the solutions is Land Reclamation, however many so called experts and recently even some NGOs took to the media to speak against land reclamation as if this would create a massive environmental disaster that would spell the end of life as we know on tiny Malta! Land reclamation, if done correctly and after studying and producing professional environmental impact assesments could not only be the solution to disposing of waste generated from tunnel digging but also could create a better shore line for the Maltese islands.
To any Nay-Sayers and those sharing doom-prophecies about land reclamation all I have to say is that back in the eighties parts of Msida, which today we take for granted, were reclaimed, this had a massive positive impact on the lives of people living nearby, flooding was reduced and no more lives were lost during massive rain downpours as had happened in the past.