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This week, the first stretch of the Trans-Israel Highway between the Eyal and Nahshonim interchanges opened to traffic. On its first day, over 5,000 vehicles used the road (much more than anticipated), and the drivers interviewed by the media heaped praise on the quality of the highway and the journey-time saved.

All of this did not prevent dozens of environmentalists and socially-oriented organizations from protesting against the road. An honored guest at the demonstration was MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz), who bragged: "Instead of a state with a road, we are now a road with a state."

Does Sarid prefer dilapidated and dangerous roads within the Green Line, rather than wide, well-kept highways, with bridges and tunnels, built only a few kilometers further east?

The campaign by the "greens" and the "socially-minded" against paving the Trans-Israel Highway has gone on for many years, causing superfluous delays and significant damages of NIS 750 million a year. The problem with these organizations is their warped order of priorities. No one doubts that Israel lags far behind when it comes to transportation infrastructure and numbers of vehicles. Everyone agrees that the crowding on Israel's roads is among the worst in the world, that the traffic jams make lives miserable for the drivers, and that the congestion causes untold accidents, wasted time and lost production.

Everyone also knows that there is a dangerous disconnection between the center and the periphery. The outlying areas - in the North and South - have grave employment problems, while also suffering from a shortage of cultural and entertainment possibilities. So whoever really does care about society ought to act to bring the periphery nearer the center. But to the "greens" and the "socially-conscious," the swamp dragonfly is more important than all these marginal issues of society and employment.

Only a few days ago, Meretz issued an alternative economic plan to encourage employment and prevent a deterioration in the incomes of the poorer strata of society. So how can Sarid and all those "socially-minded" individuals prefer to have the North and South cut off from work, culture and entertainment opportunities?

Naturally, they talk of the preferred train solution. So I have a suggestion for them: First sell their private cars, take the train and the bus, and claim all the costs off Be'er Sheva and Yokneam residents.

In April 2004, the 90-kilometer central stretch of the highway will open, and then you will really feel the difference in a reduction of car density on the Coastal Road, the Geha Road, the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem highway, all of which suffer enormous and infuriating traffic jams. The paving of the northern and southern stretches should continue, bringing the periphery closer to the center, and turning the Trans-Israel Highway into the Joint-Israel Highway.

Now, apparently, the toll to be charged for the use of the highway is too high, particularly for trucks. This will discourage the poorer members of the public from using the road, and the investment on this great project will have been underutilized. So it would be far better to cancel the toll and to finance the road from our taxes - just like every other highway and infrastructure.