Hands on the wheel, eyes on the
Roads, those beleaguered roads. How does Transport
and Communications Minister face up to the nations woes on those
dreaded potholes? MATTHEW VELLA speaks to Censu Galea.
Censu Galea is an early-riser. And he has to leave much
of that extra reserve at high gear to tackle the roads problem that
has risen to become one of the nations greatest ills.
"Looking back at the start of 1998, the situation of the roads
remains one of the most important issues today as it was back then.
The advantage today is that the Transport Authority, which has now taken
over the Roads Department, has an action plan that is being implemented.
It also has the experience necessary to understand the defects within
the system, to which we have to find solutions."
Both in the question of resurfacing and rebuilding of arterial roads,
and village streets, there are around 500 streets to be upgraded, and
Galea says this will form the basis of the next five years to come.
"This wont mean that all the streets will be repaired. Development
would still have continued and new streets would have been created."
Despite that, there are still tens of roads that have not yet been improved
because of problems of ownership. While there is an authority resurfacing
the roads, there are a number of corporations uprooting them, rightly
or wrongly, for their own purposes, such as the water services and telephone
"The problem is that when they remove part of a road they usually
fail to repair it again. It has to be clarified that these corporations
have to mend the roads they uproot as soon as they are ready from their
And as usual there are the storms, which no matter what, always seem
to penetrate the hardened surface of our tarmac:
"I have to make a distinction between certain roads. The press
is always keen on reporting on the state of the roads following storms.
But if we look at the roads built in the last ten years, no holes actually
"This is partly because they are relatively new. However, in these
last five years, we have got contractors to pledge satisfactory standards
of road building. We have to assure not only high-level quality in the
new roads, but also improve patching to the extent that we will no longer
need re-patching week in week out on the same roads.
"We have to see a radical change in the techniques used for re-patching,
to ensure higher quality.
"In the Burmarrad, Salina and Mosta-Naxxar northbound roads, we
have developed a system where the contractors are responsible for the
next five years after delivering the project to repair the roads thereafter
at their own expense. Previous contractors who would have delivered
low standards were forced to remove the roads and rebuild them.
"We also have to ensure that these roads are delivered practically
on time, barring justified reasons which could involve the extension
of the time. We also have to ensure that where fines are justified in
cases where contractors did not deliver on time, these fines are enforced
and upheld. We also impose hefty fines as deterrents to shoddy work."
Traffic safety is also a consideration that Galea has to take well in
hand. The Sunny Monte incident brought to light new questions on the
safety of our roads. Traffic accidents in Malta are no strange occurrences:
"There are different factors involved in the provision of safety.
Roads quality is one of the most determining of factors. But the irony
is that the best of roads usually host most of the car accidents, rather
than battered village streets. It has to be government to avert these
"Another factor is the drivers themselves. Every week I have a
monitoring drive to survey the problem personally, and I see high-speed
drivers everywhere. The road signs painted on the road are ignored,
namely the double-line that serves as an invisible centre-strip.
"Also, speeding within villages, where traffic is considered to
be minimal, tends to attract recklessness from drivers who are not aware
that many pedestrians will be ambling through the streets. This is a
danger many drivers have to be wary of. In the laws limitations,
us drivers also have obligations when we are at the wheel. Such a small
contribution can help save our lives and others."
Education campaigns abroad have seen transport ministries adopt shock
techniques, picturing real-life accidents taking place. The shots are
brutal images, designed to keep drivers on their feet, to reduce speed
and avoid any form of alcohol consumption when driving. Galea knows
death as no stranger when it comes to car accidents, and he is concerned
so many youngsters still do not fathom the danger they put their lives
in when speeding:
"Im sure death is humans greatest fears. I have always
tried to instil the concept that when anyone of us is driving, we could
end up killing our relatives or friends if we drive recklessly.
"I have been to endless funerals of people killed on the road.
The young peoples ceremonies pack the Church, making you realise
the respect they had towards the deceased. The minute they leave the
funeral, they are bound to make the same mistakes, unfortunately. So
one supposes that when mourning we also have to try and review our actions
on the road.
"Young people tend to be too eager when they hit the road, and
the reality is that a year into your driving life, you are still no
driver. Every kilometre you trace is an extra kilometre of experience.
"We now have to be more conscious of our actions. The legal notices
on the Points System are already out and these will have to assure that
drivers start considering their driving skills when they are on the
road. This can only improve driving and lessen those traffic accidents.
"One of my biggest criticisms has been the narrowing of traffic
lanes. In this regard, the main priority has been lessening the danger
apparent in wide high-speed roads. The other side of the story has it
that one-lane roads can only prevent ambulances from reaching accident
"However, one-lane roads do not usually attract accidents like
the wide roads where overtaking sees cars crashing head-on. In our countrys
circumstances, where we have pedestrians using their cars for a couple
of metres distance or jaywalking on the streets, we have to bring to
their attention the consequences of their actions.
"To reduce high-speed traffic, we reduced certain roads to one
lane and ever since this exercise, we have had no accidents. God willing
there will not be any for years to come."
The other side of the transport question has been the safeguarding of
the environment, and the adoption of cleaner modes of transport. The
public transport system still suffers from ever decreasing popularity,
and car ownership remains the culminus of personal status. How far will
the Maltese driver forgo this aspect of personal liberty is a question
"Environment is now a main concern for the country. But this also
depends of the level of attention we give it, and the environment we
live in is a collective result of our individual actions.
"So the question is: what are we determined to contribute to better
the environment? Am I ready to use alternative ways of transport and
forgo our cars? I dont think so, although pointing fingers could
exacerbate positive reactions. Again, are we ready to use public transport
were it rendered more efficient? Possibly not.
"But we have to take individual stock of our actions. For the creation
of alternative ways of transport, we must also provide a demand for
these. We havent seen this yet. Even car-pooling is not exactly
So what about pedestrianisation, which effectively physically limits
the usage of private cars?
"Well, take the Valletta-bound routes from Msida and Marsa. I see
no good reason for people to use public transport instead of their cars
to go to work. Buses pass through there practically every minute. Such
traffic problems generated by compulsive usage of private transport
have to be addressed through better public transport. Provision of a
night-service could serve to have those who are moonlighters or early-risers
find alternative transport to take them to work or to their places of
The bottom line remains that it is our individual whims that dictate
whether we shall be contributing further to the congestion problem or
to bettering the environment. How would drastic measures such as London
Mayor Ken Livingstones congestion charge be effective?
"These measures are certainly not popular and are not being considered
in Malta at the moment. Livingstones charge reduced London of
20 per cent of its traffic.
"We had to take into consideration the difference between traffic
on schooldays and traffic on normal working days without schooldays.
A question I had posed, which had not been received positively, was
this: have we arrived at a stage where we should have school start at
a later time? Of course, this might coincide with parents taking their
kids to school on their way to work."