The state of Gibraltar’s roads prompted a lively exchange in the Gibraltar Parliament this week, with the government defending its maintenance and resurfacing programme as the GSD insisted key arteries were “falling apart”.
The exchange was prompted by questions from GSD MP Trevor Hammond, who sought information on which roads the government was planning to resurface.
Paul Balban, the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, sketched out recent works in some areas of Gibraltar but reflected too on the impact of construction works.
“The amount of development and construction activity on our roads regrettably has a direct impact on the state of our roads,” said Paul Balban, the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning.
“Whilst we could, of course, carry out a full resurface in some areas which are in poor condition, more often than not, and in order to make best use of available funding, the department carefully considers whether certain stretches of road may be able to wait until major construction activity in the area has ceased and all essential infrastructure laid.”
“In this way, any investment made into resurfacing may be longer lasting.”
But Mr Hammond said the main roads into Gibraltar – referring to Winston Churchill Avenue, Glacis Road and Queensway – were in a poor state, adding that waiting for construction to end was “not good enough”.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Mr Hammond said.
“Is that seriously the government’s policy, to wait for there to no longer be lorries travelling the streets of Gibraltar so that we can fix our roads?”
Mr Balban said the main roads in Gibraltar were precisely where much of the construction work was concentrated, adding that as and when projects were completed – he mentioned the Midtown Project, Ocean Spa, some of the school projects – the roads would be resurfaced.
But he said that to resurface them now when trucks continued “invariably and inevitably” to use them would be to “throw away tax payers’ money”.
And he dismissed GSD claims that road surfaces were in poor condition.
“The roads may not be very aesthetically very good to the eye, because they’re not, I must admit,” Mr Balban.
“But they are looked after, they are cared for in terms of [filling in] potholes…to make them safe.”
“They may not look nice, they may have patches of different colours, but all trench work and all roads…are fixed and repaired.”
“There’s an ongoing programme that deals with that, but to throw good taxpayers’ money into fixing roads completely at the height of construction activity…just doesn’t make sense at all.”
Mr Hammond was unimpressed with the minister’s response and came back again.
“While the minister may be reluctant to throw tax payers’ money at holes in the road, he seems to be perfectly happy for taxpayers’ themselves to be thrown into holes in the roads,” the GSD MP countered.
“The roads are full of holes and there are patchwork jobs that last a matter of weeks on occasions.”
“To suggest that the passage of heavy vehicles associated with construction will stop because a particular project is completed when we still have so many projects further down the road…”
The exchange drew the intervention of the Speaker, Adolfo Canepa, who urged MPs not to turn the question and answer session into a debate.
Mr Hammond then quizzed the government as to whether it was satisfied with the progress of encouraging people to walk instead of using their vehicles.
That prompted the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, to step into the exchanges.
“The roads are improved from the condition that we inherited them in and walking is a very pleasant experience indeed,” Mr Picardo said.
“I walk every morning with three children…and none of my children have ever fallen into a pothole because there are absolutely none on the roads that I walk.”
“If there are any potholes, then immediately that they are brought to the attention of the government, they are dealt with.”
“Walking, in my experience, is much more pleasant than waiting in a car for the traffic to clear.”