Tel Aviv Light Rail Chaos Hits National Park

Government wants to build park-and-ride complex in Ben Shemen Forest area, but JNF is firmly opposed to move.

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The beginnings of the parking lot to be built in Ben Shemen ForestCredit: Gilad Mastai

In an effort to ease expected road congestion once work begins on the Tel Aviv light rail project next week, the government is planning to construct a park-and-ride complex in the Ben Shemen Forest.

The National Planning and Building Council will discuss a request next week by NTA – the government company supervising public transportation in the greater Tel Aviv area – to approve the site. The Jewish National Fund (JNF) is strongly opposed to the initiative and claims there is a nearby alternative that would prevent serious damage to the forest.

The area in question is located north of Highway 443, several kilometers east of the Ben Shemen Interchange. The first stage of the parking complex was built by Netivei Israel on agricultural land. It was designated for those driving on Route 1 in the direction of Jerusalem, on the assumption that there would be heavy traffic on the highway due to work to widen it. In the end, it turned out the parking area was only partially used.

Now NTA wants to make use of this area as well as another that is already located in the forest, with the intention of adding another 450 parking places. NTA claims that although the parking lot is relatively distant from metropolitan Tel Aviv, it will be used to help residents of Jerusalem and Modi’in who work on Tel Aviv’s central Allenby, Rothschild and Yigal Alon streets.

Because the park-and-ride parking area in Shapirim – which is closer on the east to Gush Dan, the Tel Aviv metropolitan area – is full almost to capacity, the parking area in Ben Shemen could serve as a complementary parking area, and also enable travel to additional destinations in the area where the light rail is being built.

NTA promises that the Ben Shemen parking lot will be removed later, when parking lots in other places are expanded and another 2,000 parking spaces are added in Shapirim.

The JNF was previously opposed to the first stage of the construction of the park-and-ride complex, claiming it would damage the access roads to the forest. It proposed another alternative, which was rejected by Netivei Israel on the grounds that it was an area that was not available for parking purposes.

When it emerged there was a plan to build the second stage, again for Route 1, the JNF petitioned the High Court of Justice against the permit for building the parking area. This time, an area that is part of the forest was at stake.

While the court was still discussing the petition, two weeks ago the government announced its intention to prepare the area for NTA. It announced that this permit procedure would be implemented by means of an order signed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, which allows for the preparation of parking areas as long as they are designated for a project of national importance.

Such an order, which also has to be presented to the National Planning and Building Council, supersedes any master plan, and its approval enables the immediate commencement of work. The court decided not to reject the petition last week, demanding instead that the decision of the building council, and the opinion of the JNF regarding the consequences of the decision, be presented to it.

“Building the parking lot will damage one of the most important areas of the forest,” says Gilad Mastai, director of the JNF Coastal Plain Region. “This is a forest that constitutes the most important leisure centers for residents of Gush Dan. It is not only direct damage to the forest, but also the segmentation of an important area that links the forest and agricultural landscapes.

“There’s an area where a parking lot can be built on the other side of Highway 443,” he added. “It can serve travelers to Gush Dan during the week and hikers over the weekend, and won’t harm the environment. If they’re already using such a special order, let them use it to prepare the alternative area for the park-and-ride complex.”

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