As from tonight, the cobblestones that have characterised Paola’s main square for the last five years will start being replaced with 2,700 square metres of stone mastic asphalt in high-traffic areas, while exposed aggregate concrete will offer a practical alternative for those parts with lower vehicle load.
It’s an intervention that was really necessary after several parts of the road surface had sunken under the pressure of the continuous flow of heavy vehicles, a challenge they were never designed to withstand.
Experts in the field that I have been in touch with have confirmed that the fact that multiple sections of the road surface have subsided doesn’t necessarily reflect bad workmanship. They cautioned that the durability of cobblestone paving is just 10% that of asphalt, and hence requires continuous maintenance and an adequate traffic management plan that ensures that they do not sustain heavy modern loads – two things that have clearly been totally lacking in the Paola project following its inauguration.
The regeneration project at Paola’s main square quickly showed signs of trouble after its official inauguration in July 2018. Just two years later, the local council highlighted problems and sought action from the Consultative Council for the South of Malta – that was responsible for the project – and its architect. However, eventually the Consultative Council ceased to exist, leaving the project without any ownership and the cobblestone surface neglected. How can a government entity simply vanish in thin air, I ask? The mind boggles.
That’s where Infrastructure Malta, which from what I gather has had no ownership over the project so far, has stepped in to address the plight of all those – motorists and pedestrians alike – who make use of this busy town that has a vital role in serving the needs of the surrounding towns and villages in the south-eastern region of Malta. The agency, which is responsible for the development, maintenance, and upgrading of roads and other public infrastructure, has announced a 3-week resurfacing project starting this evening. The project will primarily take place after 7pm to minimise disruption to daily routines.
Undoubtedly, the Paola case has highlighted the need not only of robust infrastructure but also of duly enforced traffic management plans and designated maintenance responsibilities in future cobblestone paving projects for public spaces, ensuring their long-term sustainability.
There is hope that lessons have been learnt. Unlike Paola, Mosta’s recently-inaugurated cobblestone project in the main square seems to prioritise longevity. The approach taken in Mosta includes a strong base for the paving, initial contractor maintenance responsibility, and a ban on heavy vehicles. However, like in all such projects, public enjoyment now hinges on effective enforcement.
Are we up to the challenge?