Metro project could lead to more pedestrian zones

The implementation of a metro project could see more public spaces in Malta become car-free, as a public transport system would allow areas to become completely pedestrian, Transport Minister Ian Borg said on Sunday.

On Saturday evening, the government unveiled a proposal for a 25-station underground metro system that would connect some of the island’s most congested and densely populated areas.

Designed by London-based consultancy ARUP, the system will cover a total of 35 km of integrated three-line tracks, from Bugibba to Pembroke, from Birkirkara to Valletta and from Mater Dei to Cospicua. Almost all of the proposed system will operate underground, with the exception of a short section between Naxxar and Bugibba.

The network would cost around 6.2 billion euros and its construction would take 15 to 20 years.

During a press briefing on the proposal on Sunday, Borg said the introduction of a metro line would allow certain areas to be pedestrianized.

“Although we want people to use alternative transportation, we can’t tell them to give up their cars because we’re going to have a metro line in 20 years,” Borg said.

“However, once we have a subway line, there are some places where we can absolutely eliminate cars.”

“Triq Sant Anna in Floriana, for example, one of the busiest roads on the island today, can be turned into something similar to Rue de la République in Valletta. Sliema’s waterfront, for example, could also be pedestrianized.

“However, to get there, we need to come up with viable alternatives.”

Public proposals for the pedestrianization of Floriana have been suggested and developed by architectural firms since 2014 and while these tend to generate positive public support, they never seem to take off at the administrative level.

An artist’s impression of an idea for pedestrianization of Rue Saint-Joseph in Ħamrun, replacing asphalt roads with cobbled walkways, public benches and green planters, also received wide public support on social media.

The next steps are more detailed studies

Welcoming the initial positive comments on the proposal, Borg said that although the government has come up with a very detailed idea of ​​what a metro system could look like, these plans are not final and at the moment the door is open. to all kinds of comments for how it can be improved.

“I would love to see a national discussion on what we are presenting and we also welcome questions,” Borg said.

Asked about the next stage of the project, ARUP director Peter Adams said that once the consultation phase is completed, the group will move on to carrying out site-specific studies.

“Right now there are a lot of unknowns. the more knowledge you have, the less contingency you will need, ”he said.

“The biggest thing we will learn will be to conduct site-specific surveys and get more information about what is actually in the soil. Ultimately, we will have a whole series of studies on soil conditions and utilities. Once that is in hand, we will have a better idea of ​​how the project can be delivered.

“When we give numbers and costs, we also look at a contingency percentage, and in this case, it’s pretty significant,” Adams continued.

“We want to be careful because there are still unknowns that we would like to explore and provide more detailed explanation.”

“Our first phase would be to build the red line, which we think could take between five and eight years. Because getting it right is important, we believe that this time could be spent 50% on preparation and 50% on construction. We want to make sure the design, cost, and operation are correct and that everyone has been consulted.

Asked what would happen if the project encountered seawater while digging a tunnel, Adams said it was a technical issue with many industrial solutions.

“This is a problem that arises when you are building a cave station, it is well understood and a practiced water management system will be in place. There will also be a constant monitoring system so that if an intrusion appears, it will be corrected. “

In the event that archaeological remains are found, Adams said experts will be called to the scene and conservation plans will be developed on a case-by-case basis.

Adams also assured that the noise and vibrations from the underground metro would not disturb residents.

“During construction there will be short-term vibration and noise, especially around metro stations. However, during operations we dig deep enough and deep enough into the rock that you can’t tell that there are trains passing underneath ”.

An information center on the study of the metro will be open to the public for the next 15 days at Place du Triton in Floriana.

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