21 AUGUST 2002
In the name of roads
The surgical overhaul of Maltas major roads has allowed motorists to utter a sigh of relief but it has also caused headaches.
To start with, work on the major thoroughfares in the north of the island commenced all at once causing unbearable traffic jams. These road works have been going on for too long and one cannot expect motorists to have unlimited patience, even if they have been waiting for years on end to get decent roads. Somewhere, the word efficiency got lost along the Burmarrad road.
But the traffic jams caused by road works may be a short-lived nuisance, which will soon be forgotten once the road works are complete. A bigger concern for motorists is the new philosophy behind the road construction.
German experts have advised the government to go for narrower roads. And we are not speaking about roads in residential areas but major thoroughfares such as the Tal-Balal road in San Gwann and the Rabat Road in Attard.
The reasoning behind the narrowing mania is that given Maltas limited land area it does not make sense to have wide roads.
It is true that road engineering has been non-existent over the years. We have had ridiculously wide roads in town cores and snake-like roads acting as main arteries. The major roads were not properly designed thus, instead of allowing two lanes in each carriageway, more often than not they allowed for one-lane-and-a-half on each carriageway, which was a recipe for disaster. Over and above the bad design, the construction was abysmal with potholes appearing by the hour.
Hopefully the newly constructed roads will prove to be longer lasting even though proper and regular maintenance is a must. The stretch of road in Fgura, which was rebuilt under the Labour administration is already showing signs of deterioration in some areas. That particular road was a prime example of good road construction but it still needs regular maintenance without which it will return to its former lunar self.
As for narrowing the major thoroughfares the German experts have managed to frustrate drivers.
The major thoroughfares should allow motorists to get to their destination fast and in a shorter time span. Without this incentive motorists will utilise secondary roads passing through town centres thus creating a bigger nuisance for residents.
A minimum of two lanes per carriageway for most of the major roads is what motorists expected the German experts to advise given the ever-increasing car population.
But after years of waiting for their roads to be built in a decent manner motorists have to contend with a give-and-take situation. Government is giving motorists decent road surfaces but is taking away the width of the roads. Ironically, Maltese motorists will have to continue dreaming about fast German-style autobahns.
And with election year fast approaching a new sense of urgency may creep in to finish the major road works. That would surely be a visible deliverable. And the next step? A concerted effort to improve roads in residential areas, which in some areas are akin to the bomb-blasted dirt tracks of Kabul.