Atlit Worried New Overpass Will Damage Unique Kurkar Ridge

A recently approved plan by the National Infrastructure Committee calls for building a traffic overpass at the railway crossing in the center of Atlit. A massive concrete bridge will be erected, supported by tall concrete walls, that will cause irreparable damage to Atlit's ridge of kurkar rock. This ridge is of great ecological and archaeological value - intended to be the future nature park for the entire region, and containing important artifacts from the Talmudic, Roman and Crusader periods.

Atlit's representative on the Hof Carmel regional council, Hagai Atia, says the bridge's purpose is to advance development plans, including the construction of 1,400 residential units on the ridge. Locals are opposed.

"That plan is not legal yet and has no validity," Atia says, "and they're trying to fit a bridge onto an illegal plan."

The railway track that runs through Atlit today separates the larger eastern side, which includes the urban center, from the western neighborhood of Neve Prahim, built 20 years ago and home to the better-heeled. Under a nationwide plan to replace level crossings with traffic overpasses, three overpasses were mandated for Atlit. The two others, in the city's north and south, are acceptable to the council and residents.

In the controversial plan, the east-west bridge in the center of town will be situated 730 meters from the current level crossing, and outside the existing built-up area, and a new road will run through the kurkar ridge. A community of fewer than 5,000 people will get a bridge 200-meters long, 7-meters high, and 13-meters wide. The bridge will connect to another raised road, 600-meters long, supported by concrete walls and a dirt embankment. This will be the visible facade of the kurkar ridge.

The mass of concrete and dirt created by the construction will mar the view of the sea and the famous Atlit fort.

"The Shayetet took away our sea and fort," a local fisherman, Zion Buhbut, said last week, referring to the Israeli military's elite naval commando unit, "now the state is taking our sea view as well."

Atlit Council's planner, Erez Raz, echoes this complaint: "This type of bridge is suitable for a big crowded city, where serious transportation problems need to be solved. It is not appropriate for a small place with a history and character of a maritime community that is bisected by a unique natural kurkar ridge. This plan, this concrete monster, does not match and does not meet the community's needs today."

The regional council proposed an alternative underpass linking Atlit's two sides. It would cost no more than the bridge plan, and would run through public municipal land. Only pedestrians, cars and vans would use the underpass, while interchanges would be provided for the hundreds of trucks that now carry hazardous materials through the center of town on their way to the salt and chemical plants on its outskirts.

The Interior Ministry said in response that the National Infrastructure Committee dealt at length with the council's proposals, that the bridge plan was deemed the best option, and that great effort went into minimizing damage to the landscape.