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One year after the Trans-Israel Highway opened, the average volume of traffic on Israel's first toll road has reached about 1 million vehicles a month, according to Yehuda Wilk, CEO of Derech Eretz, the company that holds the government franchise to operate the highway.

Wilk expects this figure to reach 2 million automobiles by the second half of 2004. Since company's franchise agreement requires the state to compensate it if the volume of traffic is less than 2 million cars a month, this would mean significant savings for the government.

However, Wilk added, the pace at which traffic volume grows will largely depend on the speed at which major east-west connecting roads are finished. The Trans-Israel Highway runs north-south, so without the connecting roads, commuters have no convenient way of getting to their ultimate destinations from the highway.

Derech Eretz says 7 million trips have been made on the Trans-Israel Highway in the last year, an average of 19,200 a day. Today, however, the daily average has grown to about 40,000 vehicles a day, Wilk said.

Wilk said about 40 percent of all Israeli vehicles - 750,000 cars - have used the highway at some point in the last year and 250,000 regular users have bought passes. These cars account for 70 percent of the road's total usage.

The company also announced that the last part of the road's central section, 68 kilometers stretching from Hadera to Gedera, will be ready on January 6, 2004; three months earlier than planned.