The Long Road to Straightening Out a Curve

On the road going up to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv (Highway No. 1), near the curve at Motza, signs from the Public Works Authority announce the start of paving operations on this section of the road.

On the road going up to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv (Highway No. 1), near the curve at Motza, signs from the Public Works Authority announce the start of paving operations on this section of the road. Signs like this about widening or upgrading are not unusual. But this time, there is some news here for residents of the capital, and for those who want to get there: what will be the longest bridge in the country - 700 meters long - will straighten out the Motza curve and it will be built on high pillars.

The Motza curve at the end of the descent from the Castel in the direction of Jerusalem, and at the beginning of the last ascent to the city, seriously slows traffic and is especially burdensome during the crowded morning and evening hours.

The sharp curve is considered dangerous, but in recent years the number of accidents occurring on it has decreased. If in 1998 14 accidents with casualties took place there, during the past three years there has been an average of four accidents with casualties per year, a number which is not considered exceptional for intercity roads. The curve is especially dangerous for heavy vehicles, which are likely to lose their balance. Police say accidents have decreased since the prohibition of turns from Highway No.1 to Motza, and to increased enforcement.

The planned overpass is meant to allow fast and safe driving on this section of the highway, and to turn the slow, dangerous Motza curve into a thing of the past. According to the plan, the overpass will be composed of two adjacent overpasses - each carrying traffic in one direction. The length of each overpass will be about 700 meters, and each will have four lanes. (The highway itself has only three lanes in each direction.) The overpasses will be built on pillars with a maximum height of 30 meters.

The signs are a bit premature: The cost of the Motza overpass is estimated at NIS 200 million, including earthworks and development, and it is not included in the PWA plans for this year or 2003. At the PWA, they say that the overpass will probably be included in the plans for 2004, and measurements and approachability studies are being carried out. Yossi Kop, deputy director of the PWA, says work will probably begin during 2004 and will take about a year-and-a-half.

The permit to implement the plan for straightening out the curve was granted by the planning commissions back in 1974, as part of the plans to build a huge interchange at Motza. Eli Weiss, director of the Tel Aviv branch of the D.A.L. engineering company, which is planning the overpass, says that in the early 1990s detailed plans for straightening the curve were already begun. These have been completed only recently, after many changes and adaptations.

According to Kop, the decision to give budgetary and practical preference to straightening out the curve now, stems from planned changes in transportation in Jerusalem and the necessity of adapting Highway No. 1 to the proposed changes. The main change will be the paving of regional highway No. 9, which will enable those entering the north of the city, and traffic from the Dan region [Tel Aviv and environs] to the Jericho road, to bypass the main entrance to Jerusalem.

On the planned route for the overpass there are two valleys and a hill. According to Weiss, the most logical solution for paving the road was by excavating on the hill and filling in the valleys, in order to flatten the area. However, it soon turned out, the Antiquities Authority has claimed that there are valuable archaeological finds at the site, and they would not allow any damage to artifacts there.

First it was decided to build two overpasses at a length of 200 meters each - to link the valleys. Between them there would be a road adapted to the height of the overpasses. At the same time, it was decided to carry out excavations to save the archaeological finds, at a cost of millions of shekels.

However, says Weiss, about two years ago, representatives of the Antiquities Authority said that even after rescue digs are carried out, the authority does not promise to transfer the route to the PWA , because there may be archaeological finds there that should not be damaged.

Weiss says that new overpass estimated at NIS 200 million is twice the cost of the original plan.

The PWA says that the change in plans does not require planning commission approval since the plans do not exceed the overall area of the Motza overpass approved in 1974, with the overpass the only part of the plan that is presently at the stage of implementation. Therefore, work can begin immediately. But the absence of an orderly planning process means the absence of public discussion of the cost of the project and of various alternatives.

The Antiquities Authority replies that the Motza antiquities site of one-and-half dunams is identified with the Biblical town of Motza, mentioned in the book of Joshua, chapter 18, as a settlement allotted to the tribe of Benjamin.

A limited rescue dig uncovered, for the first time in Israel's central hill region, the remains of a settlement dated to the Neolithic period (about 6000 BCE). The remains of a settlement from the First Temple period were also found and 36 wheat granaries which testify that Motza in ancient times was part of an economic center.

The authority recommended to PWA that they find a paving plan that would avoid damaging the important archaeological site, saying the rescue excavations for building an overpass are far cheaper than carrying out rescue digs in the entire area of the site, which paving the road according to the earlier plan would require.

The tunnels of No. 9

The original plans approved in the 1970s were for building a huge interchange at Motza as a meeting point and traffic regulator for the three entry roads to Jerusalem: the main entrance on Highway No. 1, and two additional entrances planned at the time - one starting at Motza and reaching the northern neighborhoods of Jerusalem (regional Highway No. 9), and the second splitting off from the planned interchange to the southern neighborhoods (Highway No. 16). Implementation would have allowed approaches to the capital from various directions, and was supposed to provide an answer to the building momentum in the city at the time.

At the beginning of the 1990s - 20 years after the approval of the original plans - it was decided to accelerate that plan at least, in order to relieve the congestion at the entrance to the city from Highway No. 1. In this context, plans began for building regional Highway No. 9, which would start from Motza, reach the northern neighborhood of Ramot, and link up with Jerusalem Highway No. 9 between Ramot and the French Hill junction. At the same time, plans began for building Highway No. 16, leading from the Motza area via Nahal Soreq to the Har Nof and Neveh Tzedek neighborhoods.

During the planning of regional Highway No. 9, in 1994, it was decided that in order not to damage the landscape in the Motza valley, which is in any case full of roads, the planned link to Highway No. 1 would be moved one kilometer to the east, i.e. in the direction of Jerusalem. At the same time, it was decided that Highway No. 16 would not be paved in the near future. At the PWA they say that these decisions in effect abolished the need for the Motza interchange, and led to a cancellation of the plans about two years ago. At the same time, plans were made for the new, smaller interchange.

Ya'akov Edri, director of the Moriah company for the development of Jerusalem, which is responsible for the paving of Highway No. 9, says that the road is designed to ease the traffic at the entrance to the city, one of the country's worst bottlenecks. The road is also meant to ease the traffic between the northeastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem such as Ramot and French Hill and (to the east) Ma'aleh Adumim, and the Shfela plains region. In addition, says Edri, No. 9 will allow for the development of the neighborhoods planned for northern Jerusalem, Alona and Emek Ha'arazim with 2,800 housing units, until a special road to them is built. On regional highway No. 9 there will be two routes of two lanes each. On the northern side of the highway there will be two big interchanges: the Golda interchange (with the Ramot highway) and an interchange with Begin Boulevard. On part of the route, on the side of the Mitzpeh Naftoah hill, the highway will pass through two tunnels - one 400 meters long and the other 360 meters. The cost will be NIS 320 million. A master plan check of economic feasibility in 2000 showed it was recommended to pave the road immediately. The anticipated volume of traffic with the opening of the road is about 20,000 vehicles per day, and in 2010, about 40,000 vehicles daily.

In October 2001, after long delays stemming among other things from the opposition of green groups to the paving of the road, because of severe damage to the natural surroundings, the work began. The building of the interchanges is at an advanced stage, and the excavation of the long tunnel has begun. The road is expected to open in 2004.

The plan for building the interchange that will enable easy access to Highway No. 9 from Highway No. 1, included the construction of an overpass over Highway No. 1, beneath which the entrance to Highway No. 9 will split off. This overpass will actually be composed of two adjacent overpasses, the one from regional Highway No. 9 in the direction of Jerusalem will be 280 meters long and will include four traffic lanes, the second overpass in the direction of Tel Aviv will be 400 meters long and will include two traffic lanes. The cost of each overpass is estimated at NIS 15-20 million. Under the overpasses an additional, two-lane overpass will be built, leading from Highway No. 1 to regional Highway No. 9. The length of the overpass will be 380 meters, and its cost is also estimated at NIS 15-20 million. The new interchange will not allow access from Highway No. 9 back in the direction of Jerusalem. The PWA said that tenders for building the overpasses and the highway have recently been published, contractors have been chosen, and the work is beginning.

Jerusalem toll

At the PWA they believe that the building of the Motza overpass and highway No. 9 will solve the problem of traffic congestion at the entrance to the city, although it is also necessary to widen the lanes on Highway No. 1, in light of the continual increase in traffic volume. According to the statistics of Moriah, the volume of traffic at the entrance to the city (updated to 2000) is about 62,000 vehicles a day, and in 2010 the traffic is expected to reach about 76,000 vehicles a day.

In the past, it was decided that the left lane of the three in Highway No. 1 entering the city would be designated for public transportation, and as a fast toll lane.

About a year ago, Transportation Minister Efraim Sneh said that instead plans should be prepared for turning all the entry lanes into Jerusalem on Highway No. 1 into public transportation lanes and toll lanes at peak hours. "We can't allow a situation where people without means will be forced to wait in a traffic jam, while they watch those with means traveling fast for a fee." But Sneh's idea for a toll on Highway 1 was based on Highway No. 9 being a non-toll alternative that could serve as an entrance to all comers to the capital, which is not the case, so now this plan is thought unlikely to be workable.