Dead Sea Sinkholes Lead Israeli Authorities to Shut Major Artery

The closure will remain in effect until the paving of a permanent bypass road is completed, which could take between six and 12 months

Gil Cohen-Magen

A 300-meter section of Route 90 near Ein Gedi will be closed to traffic Tuesday due to the encroachment of sinkoles from the Dead Sea. The Transportation Ministry decided to close the road after several meters on its eastern side sank about five centimeters.

Drivers will be diverted onto an alternate road adjacent to the Ein Gedi nature reserve. The bypass route, which will be open to buses and private cars but not trucks, will provide access to Kibbutz Ein Gedi and its guest house. It runs through the fields of the kibbutz, but does not enter the nature reserve.

Even though the speed limit on the road will be 30 kilometers per hour only, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority is deeply worried about the effect of the diverted traffic on the flora and fauna of the area.

The head of the Tamar Regional Council, Dov Litvinoff, expressed concern for the tourism enterprises of the entire Dead Sea region. “Closing Route 90 without an appropriate solution constitutes a death sentence for the entire Dead Sea region. This whole area will turn into a prison and you might as well just wipe it off the map.”

The closure will remain in effect until the paving of a permanent bypass road is completed, which could take between six and 12 months. The permanent route has the approval of all the relevant bodies, including the INPA, which asked the Transportation Ministry to build a passage under the road for the movement of animals.

The INPA called on the ministry and Netivei Yisrael, the national roads company, to expedite the paving of the new road. It noted that the Ein Gedi reserve has the largest concentration of ibexes in the world, as well as many other species unique to the region. Although the road will not enter the reserve, the noise, light, and pollution from a heavily traveled road could do serious damage, it said.

The authority also expressed concern that the proximity of the temporary road could also pose a safety hazard to the some half-a-million people who visit the Ein Gedi reserve every year..

According to Dr. Gidi Bar, coordinator of the Dead Sea Project at the Geological Survey of Israel, the section to be closed is the only part of Route 90 that is at risk from sinkholes. He noted that steps to shore up the road were taken in 2002 and the road has held up in the ensuing years.

“In recent years, however, sinkholes have opened near the road, and now the road itself has started to sink,” he said.