Road-widening between Mtarfa and Mosta will gobble up 11,000sq.m of agricultural land

The widening on Ta’ Buqana road in the limits of Rabat will result in the loss of agricultural land and the removal of 42 protected trees

The northbound carriageway at Triq Buqana will get a second lane
The northbound carriageway at Triq Buqana will get a second lane

Almost 11,000sq.m of undeveloped land will be lost when the road between Mtarfa and Mosta is widened to accommodate a second northbound lane, according to the Environment and Resources Authority.

The majority of the land is agricultural and identified in the North West local plan as an area of agricultural value.

The information comes from the report submitted by the authority on the planning application to widen Triq Buqana from the Qlejja roundabout to the Mtarfa roundabout.

The project will also include the rebuilding of the two roundabouts at both ends of this stretch of road to increase their capacity and reduce accident risks.

Almost 11,000sq.m of undeveloped land will be gobbled up
Almost 11,000sq.m of undeveloped land will be gobbled up

The project had first been announced by Transport Minister Ian Borg in August 2017.

Studies foresee that an additional 6,818sq.m of agricultural land, described as a buffer area, could be used during the works to provide access to the construction site, where necessary. Any land taken up in this manner will be rehabilitated following the completion of the new road.

Some of the land to be affected lies within a designated area of ecological importance with a Grade 2 protection level.

The project will involve the uprooting of 257 trees and shrubs. Of these 50 can be transplantable.

These include 42 protected trees such as cypress trees (Tal-Għargħar) and Aleppo Pines (Żnuber) which are not transplantable due to their mature age.   

The old trees are mostly found in the southern end of Triq Buqana, close to the roundabout.

New trees will be planted to replace those which cannot be transplanted.  In the case of trees, which are 50 years old 20 trees have to be planted in their place according to present guidelines on tree replanting. 

The project will also see the replacement of the bridge spanning Wied tal-Qlejgħa (Chadwick Lakes) with a new single-span structure. This will serve to improve the water flow through this section of the valley.

Triq Buqana connects Mtarfa to Mosta
Triq Buqana connects Mtarfa to Mosta

The Wignacourt Aqueduct

One of the concerns expressed in initial studies is the possibility that parts of the Wignacourt Aqueduct could be present under the soil in the area.

While there is no evidence of the Wignacourt Aqueduct at surface level, the 1968 survey sheets shows the alignment of the aqueduct just north of the Mtarfa roundabout on the western side of Triq Buqana. 

The presence and state of the aqueduct and related structures below and above ground at this location needs to be investigated further, in order to establish what potential impacts the construction could have, the ERA report said.

The authority has exempted the project from requiring an Environment Impact Assessment but called for  more studies on possible impacts on the intersection with the underlying watercourse, and on surrounding cultural heritage features, primarily from vibrations and excavation.

In its assessment of the project ERA concluded that while the project will lead to an increased number of vehicles using this route, the removal of bottlenecks is also likely to increase traffic flow, thus any increase in air and noise emissions is not being considered significant from an environmental point of view.

On the other hand, the loss of agricultural land and trees are so “evident” that any further studies per se would not help resolving the environmental impact.

But in its concluding remarks ERA called for a more holistic study on the impact of the various road widening projects in different parts of the island.

“It is being recommended that all proposed upgrades and extensions to the national road network are assessed at a strategic level, in order to have a clear outline of the resultant impacts on traffic and air quality,”the authority said.

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