New Jerusalem mayor slams light rail project after trudging through capital
Walking along central Jerusalem's Jaffa Road is a real challenge. For some months now, the entire street has been ripped up for the light railway infrastructure. Pedestrians have been forced to negotiate between construction barriers and merchandise from nearby stores. A garbage pail, a lottery ticket booth or the occasional street-sweeper can easily cause massive human traffic jams.
Yesterday Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat experienced the situation first hand. For much of their tour, they were forced to walk single-file, with the security detail and reporters taking up the rear. Barkat used the opportunity to wage yet another attack on the light rail project. "The process isn't being managed, you can't stop a city. This is intolerable," Barkat told Yair Naveh, CEO of City Pass, the company that is laying the rail line.
When Naveh countered that the delays were due to the city's ban on working at the intersections along Jaffa Road, Barkat pointed at the ruined street and said angrily: "And you want to work on the intersections, too? Look at this!"
Barkat is fiercely opposed to the urban rail project. The day he was elected, in November, he said the feasibility of the project should be reconsidered and also suggested removing Santiago Calatrava's Chords Bridge, part of the project. The new mayor has apparently made his peace with at least the first part of the railway, from Pisgat Ze'ev to Mt. Herzl, which is in the final stages of construction.
City Pass is obliged to finish the work in the city center by the end of the year. The railway is scheduled begin operations by September 8, 2010, but sources in the know said yesterday that the conflict between City Pass and the municipality, with their mutual accusations, is liable to hold up progress.
"It's clear that the project causes damage, but it can be done with a saw - slowly and painfully - or with a scalpel, quickly," Naveh said in response to Barkat's accusations. In the meantime, the roadworks are snarling traffic, halving the profits of affected businesses and causing much pollution and noise.
"Ninety percent of the businesses [on Jaffa Road] are losing money and 1,500 workers have lost their jobs because of the work," Malkan Kiumars, a representative of the merchants, said. "During rush hour, 180 buses used to go down the street every hour, now it's 30," he said.