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Who has not encountered the traffic jams at the entrance to Tel Aviv from the direction of Jerusalem? Or the huge jams that occur every morning on the Ayalon highway between the Ben-Gurion and Kibbutz Galuyot exits? Are these inevitable natural phenomena?

Such problems exist in all major metropolises, since there is always excess demand for entrance into the city. A large number of people want to enter their principal business center in private cars every morning, and the roads have insufficient capacity. The result is a traffic jam - which makes the trip more expensive for all the drivers stuck in the jam, in terms of time, gasoline and wear and tear on their cars.

And from the environmental standpoint, having all those motors idling for an extended period causes a dangerous increase in the emission of air pollutants.

Throughout the world, governments have been dealing with this problem. Here, a professional committee headed by Professor Ilan Solomon was set up, and it determined that it would be economically worthwhile to build an additional lane along the 13-kilometer stretch of highway between the Ben-Gurion and Kibbutz Galuyot exits.

Buses and private cars carrying four or more people would be able to use this express lane for free, but cars carrying fewer than four people would have to pay.

The plan also called for allowing drivers to park in a lot at the Shappirim exit and transfer to a bus. The buses would leave the lot every five minutes for two main Tel Aviv business centers: the Kirya district and the Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan. Both the parking and the bus trip from Shappirim to Tel Aviv would be free - because the goal is to shift as many drivers as possible to public transportation, therefore easing the traffic jams.

To make implementation of this plan more efficient, the committee recommended that the express lane be built under the BOT (build-operate-transfer) system, in which a private entrepreneur finances and builds the project, then operates it and collects all the tolls for 25 years, after which it is transferred to the government.

Even today, a system exists for determining the order of entry into Tel Aviv: the "Russian" system of waiting in line, which takes no account of the differing value of each person's time, but simply puts everyone into one long, wearying line.

But once the express lane is built, this system will become "economic": Someone who places a high value on his time - such as someone hurrying to a university exam or an important meeting - will consider it worthwhile to pay the toll and circumvent the line. That will benefit everybody. Moreover, public transportation will enjoy a clear advantage.

Ephraim Sneh, the former transportation minister, torpedoed this project, due to his outmoded distaste for everything that smacks of economic efficiency. In contrast, current minister Avigdor Lieberman is promoting the project. A tender was issued two months ago, and yesterday, a conference was held at Kfar Hamaccabiah for all the bidders. With a little luck, the new lane will be built within three years.

But opponents of the project still have hope: Lieberman is threatening to leave the government if the prime minister's disengagement plan passes. If so, Sneh is liable to return to the Transportation Ministry and move us back 100 years - to Mother Russia and the system of waiting in line.