by Petra Caruana Dingli
As a scenic landscape, the Gozo-Comino channel is one of Malta’s most beautiful and outstanding assets. This must be a prime consideration in any discussions or studies about the proposed construction of a bridge spanning over the 5 km channel, which is currently being promoted by the government.
The idea is for Gozo to have better connectivity to Malta. But at what price? The double insularity of Gozo – an island depending on another island – also has its special advantages. The relatively peaceful lifestyle of Gozo is intrinsic to its charm and is a principal attraction of the Maltese Islands as a tourist destination.
The marketing strategy of the Malta Tourism Authority, as presented on its website, is to promote Gozo “for relaxation holidays” and for its rural, slower-pace, ‘off-the-beaten-track’ product including cycling and walking holidays. A key selling point is that Gozo is “unspoilt and not as built-up as Malta”, with “wild terrain”.
The ‘visitmalta.com’ website describes Gozo as “a peaceful, mystical backwater”, and an “ideal secluded haven” which is “more rural and tranquil” than Malta with “a relaxed pace of life”. Some people have purchased properties in Gozo specifically because they were attracted by the tranquillity of the island, whether for holidays or as a principal residence.
If a bridge is constructed, people visiting the waters around Comino will find themselves swimming or boating close to what will in effect be a main arterial road suspended across the channel. The popular Blue Lagoon, whose capacity is already severely strained by large visitor numbers every summer, would be situated near a motorway.
With this project, the government would have to completely rethink the overall tourism product currently offered by the MalteseIslands. The diversity of the product would certainly be affected, as it is likely that Gozo would gradually be transformed into a mere extension of Malta and lose its distinct and treasured identity.
It is understandable that some people who live in Gozo and who travel to Malta regularly, or even daily, for study or work, would like to have a bridge to cut down on their travel time. But have all other options to improve connectivity without creating a major environmental impact been properly explored, for example, a more frequent ferry service or a catamaran? Is a bridge costing mega-millions more feasible than extending the ferry service to reduce waiting times?
Leaving financial costs aside, which may cause the project to be dropped in any case, no study can be complete without highlighting the bridge’s major environmental cost. The bridge would have a huge impact on the scenic views of the channel and of the island of Comino. A bridge would also have significant environmental impacts on Comino through light and noise pollution. Apart from its Natura 2000 status, Comino is a bird sanctuary and is considered to be an important stop for migratory birds passing over the Maltese Islands.
The effect of a bridge on traffic in Gozo is another concern. Gozo’s roads can already get very congested at peak times and are not designed to handle a major traffic influx. The traffic impact in Mellieha, with a predicted increase in vehicles travelling to and from Gozo, should equally not be underestimated.
The idea of a referendum has been put forward. I hope that the project will be abandoned well before this stage, however if a vote were to be taken all Maltese citizens should be eligible to participate as this huge project would have a long-term effect on everyone, in terms of environmental and economic impacts, financial cost and the island identity of both Malta and Gozo.
Some people have commented that bridges can be attractive. Well, of course they can be, especially in urban areas, but this is not a question of whether a specific design is beautiful or not, but whether a massive concrete bridge should be constructed in the gorgeous natural setting of the Gozo-Comino Channel. I think not.
This article appeared in Din l-Art Helwa’s magazine Vigilo No.44 October 2013
I understand any ecological concerns. However:
1) A tranquil island to visit leaves good tourism incomes? Where to spend money? Nowhere.
2) There are people who actually have a life in Gozo. It is not a holiday resort only. People work and depend on others for their income. Arguing against a bridge in favor of tranquility is just egoism of people who want spend a weekend break once in a while in Gozo.
3) We live in a globalized world where everyone is in competition with one another. first globalization means interconnectedness, so why do we have to be separate in our own islands? Second, competition from other countries is increasing both in tourism and FDI.
4)Coming back to tranquility. These tourists come to Gozo and live on a bottle of water and one meal a day. They spend most of their time walking around and spending nothing. It is not about quantity but quality.
5) International tourism in Gozo is quite weak. The only tourism Gozo has is the Maltese people. However, note that Malta’s income from this sort of intra-tourism does not leave the best revenues for the countries. We need money from the outside.
6)I wrote this in 6 minutes. If I had more time like the author did, I would have wrote much more.
A rather dated reply. However here it goes. Even considering such a proposal for a bridge creates a strong emotive response of complete dismay and disappointment. Any bridge would be an unmitigated disaster and destroy the uniqueness of Gozo. It would lose its identity overnight. A tunnel – although hidden would do the same. Leave well alone and improve the existing infrastructure. Now here is an additional comment out of left field: Abolish the existing government owned boat service. Offer out tenders for smaller boats and ensure that the business goes to at least two separate and competing entities. Competition breeds success and the existing service can only improve. Economies of scale would be the only issue and hopefully not insurmountable. If not, you may end up with something similar to Tal Virtu monopoly between Valletta and Pozzallo. Compare their prices to voyages of similar distances in Italy or Greece and you will be surprised the prices. Not many places on earth where it is cheaper to fly then to take a ferry boat!! No bridge please … and no tunnel.
A bridge would hurt the magnificent view we have to offer of our 3 islands basking in the Med., no matter what architectural “wonder” one can come up with!
It would also ruin the contrast between the individual lifestyles of the islands.
In my opinion, further improving the ferry services would be the best option here.
May I add: A “scenic” Monorail-System on Malta would imrove everyday lives and raise local health standards by cutting down traffic & therefore air-pollution.
Spot on. Vancouver has a wonderful elevated monorail. Worth considering a initial scheme connecting Marsa-Floriana-Msida-Sliema.
The WORST possible disaster that could happen to Gozo in every concept and another ecological one for that part of the islands
If the ferry service was doubled and run at break even or even at a loss it would still make MORE economic sense in the long and short term
The Gozo-Malta bridge proposal is a non-starter, both catastrophic from an environmental viewpoint and economically not viable. Would make much more sense to use the money to consider long term proposals for alleviating the traffic congestion problems in Malta by considering an off-ground monorail system.
I lived on an island in London, Eel Pie Island in Twickenham, He had a humbacked footbridge over a lovely part of the Thames to connect to the 50 households. The bridge was damaged in a collision and for a time my daughter was the only girl in London who had to take a boat to school. A new bridge was provided by British Gas. The inconvenience of access DID lend a certain camaraderie to the islanders but now there is the new bridge, everyone loves it. The view crossing the bridge is superb and more people enjoy the view crossing the bridge than watching it from the coast. And bridges CAN be pretty!
leave well alone. Have we not done enough damage to our beautiful islands by trying to be like other places. Well we are not other places. ..we are UNIQUE. ENOUGH, !,,