News | Sunday, 25 January 2009

Complaints pile up as roads deteriorate in the rain

JAMES DEBONO spoke to five mayors and found out the cash-strapped councils cannot cope with the nation’s road troubles

Callers-in to the MaltaToday newsroom this week had only one thing on their mind: roads, or the lack of good ones at least.
Complainants were aghast the state of roads and at how the first rains of the year had already done their worst, with potholes turning the roads into obstacle courses.
Readers said they had to swerve at the sight of sudden potholes, fearing they would damage their cars. Others said they had incurred punctures. Many callers complained about the state of the roads in Sliema, San Gwann but also in Naxxar and other main roads linking the south of the island.
But town mayors contacted by MaltaToday lamented that their councils’ finances are stretched to the limit, and that even roads falling under their responsibility are too costly to mend without government assistance.
The mayors confirmed having received a lot of complaints in the past days, but said they had to wait for fine weather before starting with patching works.

Latmija road craters
Most of the complaints received by the Marsaskala council deal with damages incurred by drivers on the stretch of road between the Sant Antnin Plant and the Chef Choice outlet, the Latmija road.
This part of the road falls under the central government’s responsibility and therefore the council cannot do anything about it.
Recently a driver incurred damages amounting to €120 because of an accident near the Chef Choice outlet, mayor Mario Calleja said. He also acknowledged receiving a number of complaints on the state of Triq il-Qalliet, a residential road falling under the council’s responsibility.
But according to Calleja, repairing this road would cost the council €500,000. “Whenever we receive complaints on residential roads we try to intervene immediately by carrying out patching. When we receive complaints on arterial roads we immediately pass them to the government’s Works Department.”

Sliema Road promises
The San Gwann mayor, Renato Savona Ventura, claims that most of the complaints he receives deal with the poor state of Sliema Road, which falls under the council’s responsibility.
But the council is helpless as it can’t afford the costs required to repair the road. “To repair this road we would have to spend one-fourth of the council’s budget,” Savona Ventura said.
According to the mayor the situation worsens in the rainy season. “Currently there are at least 10 potholes.”
Studies have shown that Sliema Road takes double the traffic passing from the Tal-Balal Road, which takes cars to and from Naxxar. But despite numerous commitments, the central government refuses to allocate the funds necessary for its repair.
According to the mayor, the first commitment by the central government to remake Sliema Road was made in reply to a parliamentary question, in which Jesmond Mugliett had promised that the roadworks will be done in conjunction with works on Manwel Dimech Bridge.
But the government failed to honour its pledge. Now the council has been promised that Sliema Road will be remade in conjunction with the new Regional Road flyover.
The council has also written to the Water Services Corporation, which had caused most of the damage when passing the drainage system under Sliema Road, to pay for part of the expense. “But they only offered us a pittance,” Savona Ventura said.

Cannon’s holes
The Santa Venera council’s executive secretary also confirmed that complaints from commuters increase during rainy days. “But we have to wait for fine weather because any patching done in hostile weather conditions is useless.”
He points out that most people complain about roads constructed in the 1980s, which have not been given any tarmac for the past 15 years. “One road which surely needs to be completely redone is Cannon Road, which is full of potholes.”
Half the road falls under the council’s responsibility, while the remaining half falls under the central government’s responsibility. “A lot of temporary patching work is done but this is useless as the road has to be redone completely.”
Yet the council cannot afford to pay for the necessary works on Cannon Road. “There should be a collective effort involving both the council and the government to do this project. Discussions have started on this.”
The executive secretary said the council finances are stretched to the limit. “We have spent €50,000 to remake the road near the primary school. This is the maximum we can spend on roadworks in a year.”

Construction havoc
“I am sorry to say that the roads are not in a satisfactory state,” Sliema mayor Marina Arrigo told MaltaToday, pointing out that Sliema has had to endure a lot of construction and a large number of heavy vehicles passing through inner roads before arriving to their site.
“That’s why I feel it’s important that those who cause the damage should guarantee that repairs are performed.”
Arrigo said the Sliema Council tries to rectify all complaints as soon as possible. “However we are at a drawback, because of the bad weather in these months. In fact, we have our contractor on standby to do patching works on our roads as soon as a couple of days of fine weather are forecasted.”
She would welcome any intervention from the central government to ensure that any repairs and works are done.

Spokes in the wheel
Siggiewi mayor Robert Musumeci contends that the state of roads in his residential zone is acceptable, bar one road – Triq Mgr Mikiel Azzopardi. The council had already budgeted €150,000 to resurface this road, without even asking the assistance of the central government.
But before starting the works, the council needed the clearance of the Water Services Corporation. According to the mayor, the WSC is asking the council to pay an extra €60,000 for civil works to improve the underground infrastructure. “This would take a chunk out of my budget and I will be constrained to patch the road instead of resurfacing it.”
Musumeci has told the WSC this is not acceptable because the road would remain in a dangerous state for commuters. “I can’t tolerate a dangerous road over a renovated underground infrastructure.”


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