Israeli Environmental Groups Protest Impact of New trans-Israel Highway Lights on Wildlife

The groups are demanding that changes be made in the planning of the lighting poles and that the ecological impact be considered before adding more lighting along the road.

The Tzarta winter pool.
Dr. Yariv Malichi

Nature conservation organizations are claiming that the lighting that’s been added to one of the major stretches of Route 6, the Trans-Israel Highway, is endangering area wildlife by disturbing the natural habitat.

The groups are demanding that changes be made in the planning of the lighting poles and that the ecological impact be considered before adding more lighting along the road.

New lighting poles have been erected on the section of Route 6 between the Nahshonim interchange and the Ben Shemen interchange to the south. The lighting was approved by the planning team that oversees the development of the road on behalf of the national planning bodies. The team decided that because of the increased traffic on the road, the lighting was needed for safety reasons.

Artificial lighting generates light pollution that’s a hazard for animals because it interrupts their normal life rhythms. When the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel warned against the consequences of the lighting, the planning team said that it was being installed according to the guidelines of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The planning team head, Ilana Shafran, said that to prevent environmental damage the poles were erected in the center of the road, rather than on the sides, and a mechanism was added to reduce the intensity of the light after peak traffic times. She added that the lighting was required by Transportation Ministry regulations.

But the INPA’s ecologist, Dr. Noam Lieder, also contacted the planning team and insisted that the work is being carried out in violation of the guidelines. He said that the possible effects of the lighting on such important ecological sites like the Tzarta winter pool, which is a nature reserve, were never examined. The pool is between the Hadid tunnel, which is part of the road, and the town of Givat Koah, where animals pass under the road and where a cave used by bats is located. The light poles were erected directly on top of the winter pool, which is home to some very rare species of animals. Lieder praised the way the Cross-Israel Road Company was cooperating in an effort to improve the situation, but added that there isn’t much that can be done once the lighting poles are up.

THE SPNI is concerned that lighting poles may eventually be erected along the entire road. The organization has contacted Reuven Levon, Cross-Israel Highway’s CEO, and warned against the ecological consequences of such a move, claiming it is not a safety necessity. The SPNI says the rest of the road should be left dark, except for interchanges and junctions.

Levon said in response that the sections of Route 6 between Iron in the north and Sorek in the south will get new lighting, with part of the work already completed. “The decision to add lighting has been formulated over several years and combines the need to light areas near the seam line, the ever more intense transitions between darkness and light on all levels, the continuity of traffic along the dark Trans-Israel Highway into well-lit lateral roads and more. All these led to the decision.

“We have committed to conducting a dialogue with the Nature and Parks Authority to focus the lighting on the road corridor and minimize its external effects,” he added.