As Socially Concerned as It Gets

If the environmentalists in the 1970s had the kind of power they have today, Route 1 to Jerusalem would never have been built. After all, it damages the Judean Hills - wasn't the Burma Road good enough?

Yesterday afternoon Section 18 of the Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6) was opened to traffic. The section connects Wadi Ara to Wadi Milik and shortens the route between the Galilee and the center of the country. The Israeli public is invited to enjoy the road - with the exception of a few politicians who in my opinion should be banned from traveling on it.

I am speaking of politicians who for years opposed the road and obstructed its progress in various ways, doing everything possible to keep it from being built. Two of them - Yossi Sarid and Yossi Beilin - even submitted bills aimed at quashing it. Good people, such as Ran Cohen, Uzi Landau, Michael Melchior, Zahava Gal-On, Omri Sharon and Dalia Itzik, as well as Sarid and Beilin, did their best to destroy the most socially conscious project Israel has seen in years. They talk in lofty terms about the importance of investing in the periphery, providing assistance to the poor and the unemployed, but when Avraham Shochat did his best to promote the highway they tried to stop him - because it's more popular and makes for better press to do so.

Route 6 connects the country's north and south to the center. Every leader in the outlying areas wanted it. Instead of suffering in remote communities from a lack of employment opportunities, or of theater and cinemas, one can hop on the freeway and easily reach the center for work or to see a performance and return home afterward safely and quickly.

When the road is completed (with an additional 60 kilometers in the north, up to Nahariya, and the same distance in the south, until beyond Be'er Sheva), it will be a real blessing for the distant periphery. The socioeconomic situation for residents of the Galilee and the Negev will improve greatly, and they will no longer feel like unwanted stepchildren. This could have been achieved long ago, were it not for the objections of the environmentalists. But the environmentalists care more about the common sorrel plant or the swamp dragonfly than they do about human welfare. They held up the road's construction for about four years, at an estimated annual cost of NIS 750 million.

Section 18 was approved by the cabinet back in August 2000. It could have been in use by mid-2005, but the "greens" submitted objections and High Court of Justice petitions, and also found an original solution: They proposed drilling a tunnel - 7.4 improbable kilometers long - instead of a surface highway. But to drill a tunnel there must be a mountain, and so they proposed moving the route of the road five kilometers to the west, in order to reach Mt. Horshan. It all sounds a little like the stories of Chelm.

Not only is a tunnel much more expensive than a surface road and thus unfeasible, but there are also issues of ventilation, safety (including the danger of fire and multiple-vehicle accidents) and vulnerability to terror attacks. And the main thing: People would rather look at the beautiful view of the Menashe Forest than drive through a mountain for 7.4 kilometers in fear and feeling stressed.

The central argument of the environmentalists is also flawed. They claim the highway harms the environment, but the reverse is actually the case. Route 6 brings us closer to nature and the landscape. It enables us to enjoy looking at and walking in areas not previously accessible without an off-road vehicle.

If the environmentalists in the 1970s had the kind of power they have today, Route 1 to Jerusalem would never have been built. After all, it damages the Judean Hills - wasn't the Burma Road good enough?

Route 6 is also important in terms of environmental protection. It reduces congestion and traffic jams in the central region, reducing fuel use and with it the amount of toxic gases being pumped into the atmosphere, as well as reducing the number of traffic accidents. Those who pay the toll to use Route 6 also assist those who cannot afford to do so, because they reduce the traffic on routes 2 and 4.

But because the Jewish people is a merciful people, it is nevertheless right to permit Cohen, Landau, Melchior, Gal-On, Sharon, Itzik, Beilin and Sarid to use the road - on condition that they admit their error. It's a small price to pay for the privilege of driving on the most socially-conscious road in Israel.