According to the private operator of the country's only toll road, some 55,000 drivers use the Trans-Israel Highway daily, far below the target 75,000 figure, which therefore means the government will have to provide a financial safety net, as agreed between the state and the company when it won the tender for the project.
Although, according to Derech Eretz, the daily traffic volume will still be below 75,000 in June 2004 (the first month in which the fall-back plan kicks in), the toll operator says that according to the current rate of growth of 8-10 percent each month, the volumes should top that number by September.
The sides worked out a target daily traffic volume, below which the operating company would be compensated. Trucks are considered as three vehicles, while motorbikes are considered half a vehicle, for these purposes. The safety net, signed as part of the operating contract between Derech Eretz and the state, provides a financial guarantee, if, from June 2004, the numbers of vehicles using Highway 6 (the Trans-Israel highway) fall below a certain figure. If the numbers do fall below, then the government will recompense Derech Eretz 82 percent of the shortfall. On the other hand, if the traffic volumes are above the projected daily rate of 75,000 vehicles, then Derech Eretz must pay the state 57 percent of the revenues.
The company points out that one of the feeder roads, Highway 7, which connects the Trans-Israel Highway with the coastal road (Road 2), has been delayed, but once it is completed by the Public Works Department, there should be a significant effect on use of the toll road.
According to the company's figures, traffic using the road prior to January's opening of the latest section from Nitzanei Oz to Elyakim, was only at around 40,000 a day.
The chief economist at the Trans-Israel Highway Company, which manages the project on behalf of the state, Nitzan Yotzar, said that the safety net payment plan sets in once the state approves the completion of the total highway project. This is scheduled to be finished by October of this year, but if it is completed ahead of schedule, Yotzar points out, then the company is entitled to apply the payment plan sooner. According to the contract, the target traffic volume for the year 2004 is 32 million journeys, which, the economist noted, could be translated to a daily figure of 75,000.
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