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The Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee yesterday withdrew legislation that would have made the southern section of the Trans-Israel Highway (Road 6) a toll road.

The withdrawal of the clause from the Economic Arrangements Bill had the backing of Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, the regional development minister and minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee, Silvan Shalom, and the committee's chairman, Ofir Akunis.

The bill had called for a toll of NIS 2.5 to be charged to drivers and passed on to Derech Eretz, which built and is operating the highway.

Akunis said there is no reason for drivers to pay a toll on a road built with taxpayer's money.

According to Shalom, the toll is basically a fine for using a road built with state financing. "Derech Eretz claims that it needs the money for the road's maintenance, and my question is - does Route 1 charge citizens for its maintenance?" he said.

According to a document the Knesset Research and Information Center submitted to the committee, the toll would have generated revenues of NIS 27.4 million annually.

Under the current arrangement between Derech Eretz and the state, the annual cost of maintaining the route is NIS 3.4 million.

The Economic Affairs Committee had once before vetoed the idea of a toll on the southern portion of the highway and demanded that the government refrain from negotiating with any tender winners before the matter had been approved in principle by the Knesset.