GIBRALTAR’S new access tunnel is all set to open Friday morning after emergency crews ran their trial runs for an accident on Wednesday.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo unveiled the tunnel to the press on Thursday at its location on Devil’s Tower Road followed by a reception at the airport.
The opening of the tunnel on Friday is a long awaited moment in Gibraltar’s history which would now give uninterrupted land access to the European Union.
Talks are still underway to find out how fluid frontier access will be on the long run.
Former Chief Minister Peter Caruana first signed the original deal to excavate the runway tunnel in 2008.
Spanish company OHL took on the project to build 1.24 km of motorway style road through a 350 metre section of tunnel.
The project includes a control centre for the tunnel, an airline fuel storage depot and new runway edge lights on the eastern end of the runway.
The GSD government originally paid OHL £30.23 million for the project.
In August 2011, the same government terminated OHL’s contract.
The Spanish company then took the Gibraltar Government to the UK’s High Court.
In 2014, it found that the Gibraltar Government had acted properly to end the contract with OHL and ordered it to pay the extra expenses to finish the project.
But OHL, which Spanish courts have found guilty of numerous corruption charges, persisted.
In 2015, it took the case to the Court of Appeal in London which duly dismissed it.
The government’s privately run Gibraltar Building and Joinery Services (GJBS) tried to continue working on the tunnel.
Up to standard
Finally, Picardo signed a new deal with OHL to complete the project but at a reduced of £24 million to compensate for the inconvenience to the government and the works carried out by GJBS.
The Chief Minister said this week he wanted it be finished at the highest British and EU standards after the court battle.
“The long gestation of this project has been due to litigation and disputes where the Government of Gibraltar did not accept substandard work not up to British standards,” Picardo said in a statement.
“But it was only fair that we didn’t pay with taxpayer money for jobs that didn’t conform to the standards agreed by contract.”
For Gibraltarians, the tunnel has been publicly a running joke but in private a source of concern about delayed key infrastructure.
For the government, it was the key to unlock projects around the north of the Rock including the stadium and new housing.