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A cumbersome "temporary" traffic arrangement on a portion of Tel Aviv's Ayalon freeway is being perpetuated by a dispute between the Netivei Ayalon company and Israel Railways.

The arrangement was initially necessitated by an Israel Railways project to build an additional railway line alongside the freeway. In order to keep the new rail line from impeding the flow of water to the nearby Ayalon River, the railway also had to build a water conduit under one lane of the freeway between the La Guardia and Shalom exits. This required traffic to be cleared from this lane and funneled into the remaining lanes, which led to traffic jams.

The work ended about two weeks ago, after which traffic patterns were to return to normal. However, the lane has still not reopened.

According to Netivei Ayalon, the delay is due to police criticisms of the plan prepared by Israel Railways for restoring the lane. Until these flaws are fixed and the police approve the plan, the company said, work cannot begin.

But according to Transportation Ministry sources, a more serious problem is a dispute that erupted recently between Netivei Ayalon and Israel Railways. According to the sources, after the railroad work had been completed, it emerged that the width of the lane under which the work was done had been reduced by two meters - meaning that either that section of the highway would lose its shoulder, or it would be impossible to open the additional lane. Therefore, Netivei Ayalon is demanding that Israel Railways restore the two meters before reopening the lane.

Israel Railways, however, claims it abided strictly by its original agreement with Netivei Ayalon, and that the highway company first raised the demand that the road be widened only two months ago. The railroad said widening the road would cost NIS 10-15 million, and it sees no reason why it should be required to fork over this sum.

Moreover, the railroad said, the necessary work cannot be done during the winter, so if the road were to be widened, the lane would have to remain closed at least until spring.

According to the Transportation Ministry, the two companies will meet to try to resolve the disagreement, but until a settlement is reached - and implemented - the lane cannot be reopened.

Netivei Ayalon, though it acknowledged the existence of the dispute, insisted the disagreement had nothing to do with the delay in reopening the lane. That, it said, was due to the fact that police approval has not yet been obtained.