The Judean Hills near Jerusalem - Ron Almog
The Judean Hills near Jerusalem. Photo by Ron Almog
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Irrevocable damage would be caused to the Jerusalem Forest by a new road in the capital, say environmentalists.

The National Roads Company planning Route 16, which would connect the city's Route 1 entrance with Jerusalem's southwest neighborhoods, insists it would relieve the heavy traffic to and from the city with minimal damage to the forest.

The Jerusalem Forest still constitutes a green lung, but it has dwindled in recent years due to the encroachment of neighborhoods, roads and industrial buildings.

The Forum of Organizations for Jerusalem Forest and Adam Teva V'Din - the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, have submitted an objection to the Route 16 plan, saying its construction would disrupt the environmental balance, damage the landscape and turn the forest into a "local grove."

The Interior Ministry's national infrastructures committee, which began discussing the objections to Route 16 on Tuesday, is expected to approve the plan to build the road.

Route 16 would start from Route 1 near Motza, continue over a bridge toward the Jerusalem Forest and enter a tunnel going under the forest and the Har Nof neighborhood. It would pass onto another bridge over the Ravida Stream inside the forest and descend into another tunnel under the Yefe Nof neighborhood before joining Begin Road.

The construction, estimated to cost some NIS 1.5 billion, is expected to take four years.

National Roads Company project manager Eli Kahana said the road is essential to alleviate heavy traffic at Jerusalem's entrance and inside the city, from the southwest neighborhoods to the city center and Givat Shaul, which is expected to become one of Jerusalem's main business areas. He said traffic at Jerusalem's entrance is expected to increase in the coming years due, among other things, to the extension of the public transportation system.

"The need for the road is greater now that plans for another more western road have been canceled with the Safdie plan to build thousands of housing units west of the city," he said.

Environmentalists and residents of the area said the road would turn the forest into nothing more than a coppice, especially in the Ravida Stream area, where an interchange and bridge are set to be built.

Forest shrinkage

The forest would shrink in the Motza area as well, where another bridge is being planned. The massive construction would cause grave damage to the forest and landscape in the region, they said.

"The interchange will divide and cut up the forest area, destroying the scenery and causing noise and air pollution, leaving no trace of the pastoral landscape of today," a representative of the environmental organizations said in the objection they submitted to the infrastructures committee.

The roads company dismissed these arguments and said a continuous open space would be preserved along the streams by means of bridges and pedestrian passages for hikers and wildlife.

"A significant part of the cost is earmarked to build the tunnel intended to prevent damage to the forest and spare the residents environmental hazards," Kahana said. The two bridges' plan would take the scenery into consideration, and the impact of the Ravida intersection would be limited and would certainly not damage other forest areas, he said.

But Adam Teva V'Din's urban planner Yael Dori said the new road reflects a basic failure in transportation concept and planning. "They keep basing transportation on more and more roads to accommodate more and more vehicles. Jerusalem needs a comprehensive plan that takes better advantage of public transportation, from the railway line to Tel Aviv, and adds more public transportation lanes," she said.

"The huge resources for such a road come at the expense of public transportation, hurting the needy classes that need it most," she added.

The Forum of Organizations for Jerusalem Forest said the authorities must seek other alternatives to alleviate traffic, such as building a fast lane at the city's entrance and setting up parking lots at the railway station, like in Tel Aviv.

Alternative route

Alternatively, they suggested building all of Route 16 in one continuous tunnel, but the roads company said that would mean losing direct access from the road to many parts of the city.

An official of the Jewish National Fund, which is in charge of the forest, said the fund had participated in planning the road and proposed putting part of it in a tunnel, and therefore cannot raise objections to it now.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel has also adopted this approach and made do with demanding a number of specific changes in Route 16.

"I object to using a private vehicle and want to expand public transportation," said Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Naomi Tzur, "but after the western ring road was canceled we decided not to object to Route 16, which will cause less environmental damage."