traffic jams - Nir Keidar - 25112011
Alternative Tel Aviv traffic arteries were plagued by traffic jams on Thursday after Namir Road was closed due to a burst water main. Photo by Nir Keidar
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The bursting of a water main on Derekh Namir and the resulting blocking of the north-south road between Arlosoroff and Shaul Hamelekh streets caused massive traffic jams in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, especially on the Ayalon Highway.

Drivers reported short hops within the city that took an hour or longer. The pain rippled out from Tel Aviv into the suburbs of Ramat Gan and Givatayim.

Repair crews worked around the clock until they fixed the problem last night. A five-meter stretch of pipe was replaced and sealed with concrete. If the repair passes the performance tests scheduled for this morning the road will be reopened to traffic.

This was the third time in the past two years that a water main in Tel Aviv burst, causing significant traffic disruptions throughout the city. Last November the main water pipe at the intersection of Derekh Namir and Rokach Boulevard failed, as did a water main in the Bavli neighborhood in August 2009, flooding Derekh Namir and the tunnel below it.

Outlived its life expectancy

The pipe on Derekh Namir that burst on Wednesday should have been replaced more than 20 years ago, according to Israel Water Authority officials. The failure of the 51-year-old pipe was due to corrosion. The November 2010 water-main rupture on the same street was also caused by a superannuated pipe - 56 years old.

Water Authority spokesman Uri Shor told Haaretz last night that the life expectancy of pipes of this type is around 30 years. "I'm absolutely certain that such things will continue to happen," Shor said. "The pipes have been neglected not only on Derekh Namir but all through Gush Dan," the greater Tel Aviv area. "It's only a matter of time before it happens somewhere else."

About 50 kilometers of Tel Aviv water mains are 36 inches in diameter, and many of them are at least 50 years old. Tel Aviv and the municipal water corporation have been working for several years to replace these pipes, but it will take years to complete the process. The municipal water corporation Mei Avivim's current five-year plan includes the replacement of about 10.5 kilometers of water mains by the end of 2016, at a cost of about NIS 69 million.

Officials at Mei Avivim say that every year there are hundreds of smaller ruptures and failures in Tel Aviv's water and sewer pipes that the public does not know about because they have little affect on the water supply and do not close major intersections.

The Israel Water Authority is not blaming Mei Avivim, which was established around two years ago. According to Shor, the role of the municipal water corporations is to close the gaps created by long years of neglect, in some cases decades, of water and sewage systems by local governments.

"It's not a matter of one or two days, or of one or two years, to catch up when the gaps are so great," Shor said. He says the municipal water corporations established in the past few years will do a great deal to improve the situation in the years to come.

The pipe that burst on Wednesday was on the list of pipes to be replaced as part of Mei Avivim's five-year plan. The previous ruptures, in 2009 and 2010, on Rokach Boulevard and in Bavli, were in other sections of the same pipe.

Mei Avivim CEO Yiftah Naor rejects the premise that pipes of this type only last for 30 years. He says these pipes only need to be evaluated for possible replacement after 50 years. "Overall these pipes are holding up for now, apart from problems in certain sections," Naor said.

"The only way to prevent ruptures is by replacing pipes," Naor added. "Long ago not enough was invested. For the past 12 years a great deal has been spent, but it wasn't enough to close all the gaps. We carry out occasional surveys and we target our spending on the more fragile areas. You can't predict where and when such ruptures will occur. The multiyear plan is supposed to bring about a situation where the likelihood of additional burst pipes in the city will decline."

The water and sewage system problems are not exclusive to Tel Aviv. According to Moshe Ashkenazi, chairman of the Corporate Water Forum and head of the Modi'in region water corporation, many Israeli communities have old water systems and it will be years until burst pipes of the kind that stopped traffic in Tel Aviv this week can be prevented.

"It's pipes that are made partly from asbestos, concrete or steel, without an appropriate covering," Ashkenazi said.

Naor puts the problem into a global perspective. "In the United States there are many cities whose infrastructure is worse than Tel Aviv's, such as Washington and New York. London is also much worse."