Israel's longest road tunnel may also be its greenest
Environmental rehabilitation was part of six-kilometer road project that promises to reduce motorists' commutes.
The Carmel Tunnel route, the longest of its kind in Israel, is due to open in Haifa next month. This is not only a new traffic route but a complex project that, besides altering the surrounding environment, led to the rehabilitation of environmental damages.
In the course of construction, under the guidance of landscape architect Margalit Suchoy and agronomist Hanoch Berger, three illegal landfill sites were cleared up and some 15,000 plant bulbs such as sand-lilies and cyclamens were moved to nurseries, to be replanted in the damaged areas damaged after their rehabilitation.
The Carmelton Group, which built the project, will operate the six-kilometer route as a toll road. Connecting Haifa's eastern and western exits, the new route will spare drivers from going through traffic-congested downtown Haifa, driving up and across the Carmel Mountain or bypassing Haifa from the east. It provides an alternative route to the eastern and central parts of the city, Haifa Bay and the Krayot area, cutting current travel time from 30 to 50 minutes to six to eight minutes.
Drivers will be able to exit the tunnels to the various neighborhoods via the Rupin interchange near Haifa's Grand Canyon shopping mall, which splits the tunnels into two separate parts.
The tunnel project prevented the expansive environmental damage that the construction of an overland road would have caused. But the Rupin interchange, one of the largest in Israel, was built in the heart of one of the Carmel Mountain's largest and most beautiful streams, severely damaging the environment and scenery.
To rehabilitate the landscape, local soil was returned to the slopes surrounding the interchange and natural shrubbery was planted in it. The rare white lily, which used to grow in the area, is due to be restored with nursery plant originating from another Carmel area.
An irrigation system set on the slopes will water the rock walls, enabling the natural flora to grow back.
"A tall garbage mountain used to stand here and we had to get rid of it," says Suchoy. "We tried to preserve the character of the cliffs and crags in the region as much as possible," she says.
Within 10 years, a natural, self-rehabilitating forest will have grown around the giant interchange, says Berger. "We will give it the first push by planting and watering, and nature will do the rest."
Another former industrial landfill, in the Sa'adia stream and fountain near the tunnels' northern exit, has also been rehabilitated. Part of the stream bed was moved but the fountain was cleaned of waste and the natural flora has recovered.