Ministries Gridlocked Over Highway One Toll Plan

Rush-hour traffic jams on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway One, particularly at the entrances to the two cities, are commonplace to those who frequent the route daily. Three years ago, an interministerial committee was established to solve the problem.

Anat Georgy
Anat Georgy
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Anat Georgy
Anat Georgy

Rush-hour traffic jams on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway One, particularly at the entrances to the two cities, are commonplace to those who frequent the route daily. Three years ago, an interministerial committee was established to solve the problem: the main part of the plan eventually approved was the creation of public transportation lanes that would become toll roads during peak traffic hours for those wanting to avoid the clogged lanes.

But the plan, which appeared headed toward implementation as it moved through local and regional planning commissions, looks all but stalled due to a standoff between the Finance Ministry and Transportation Ministry.

The treasury loves the idea, but the Transportation Ministry, led by its minister, Ephraim Sneh, opposes it with full force. Sneh has said he will not be involved in a plan that will lead to poor people being stuck in traffic jams, while the rich speed past after paying the toll. Therefore, the ministry is working on a plan to make all Highway One lanes leading into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv toll roads, while alternative routes would serve as free access roads.

Because of the dispute, a plan for making a single lane leading into Jerusalem a toll lane during peak traffic hours has been scrapped. After two years of planning, authorities will now have to spend even more years to devise an alternative. And the dispute appears likely to cancel the planned publication of a tender in the coming months for operating a toll lane at the entrance to Tel Aviv.

A year-and-a-half ago, the Trans-Israel Highway Corp. began working on the plan for a high-speed public transportation and peak traffic toll lane at the entrance to Tel Aviv. A new lane was to be built from the airport to the Ayalon Highway's southern entrance for public transportation and for drivers willing to pay a toll during peak traffic hours. As in the case of the Trans-Israel highway, the country's first toll road, the toll would be collected automatically, with cars billed according to usage via a sophisticated video recording system. The company even considered billing according to the speed of the car, with lower speeds costing less than higher speeds.

The lane would have been nine kilometers long and could carry 2,000 cars an hour at an average speed of 70 kph. Part of the project included a 2,500-car parking lot near the Shappirim junction, where drivers could park for free and get free shuttle service, running every four to five minutes, into the city.

The treasury likes the plan, because it believes it encourages public transportation. To advance the project, the ministry even included the financing of a tender announcement in the state budget approved last month, calling for bids to build and operate the lane.

But Transportation Ministry opposition is preventing the tender from being issued. It would rather see all the lanes from the airport to the city turned into a toll road and allow free access to the city through the Ayalon South Highway, via Holon and Rishon Letzion.

The treasury official in charge of transportation issues is Ophir Karni, who says the Transportation Ministry's plan is impractical, while the proposed plan would encourage public transportation. The treasury is also disturbed by the Transportation Ministry's opposition so late in the planning stages.

The Transportation Ministry says that while the treasury can make recommendations, the Transportation Ministry must implement that plan, and it will not proceed with a system that, according to Sneh, "discriminates between rich and poor." The ministry also is skeptical that the treasury's prediction about increased use of public transportation is realistic. "And if it isn't, the ministry will have to pay the bus companies for violations of their contracts - and deal with the traffic jams," says ministry director-general Ben Zion Salman. He says all alternatives should be studied before a green light is given for any plan.

Meanwhile, at the entrance to Jerusalem, two years of work on a high-speed public transport and peak traffic toll lane from the Mevasseret Zion junction to Jerusalem has been halted by Sneh's orders for the same reasons he objected to a single-lane Tel Aviv route - discrimination between rich and poor drivers. He would rather make the entire entrance into Jerusalem on Highway One a toll road, and those who want to take a free route could use Highway Nine via the city's northern neighborhoods.

As a result, the two ministries are gridlocked with each side refusing to give in, like two drivers refusing to let the other one go first, preferring to stew rather than let the traffic flow.



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