A light rail project in Israel's north linking Haifa and Nazareth has been saved from impending cancelation due to budget overruns, after the finance and transportation ministries reached agreements on the matter and following a decision by Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli that promoting public transportation in the north should be prioritized.
The project had been on the verge of cancelation after it was revealed that the cost of undertaking it was significantly greater than originally projected: three billion shekels ($938 million) more than when the cabinet approved the project, and more than five billion shekels ($1.6 billion shekels) greater than when it was planned by the Israeli transportation and infrastructure company Yefe Nof.
The new budget for the project is nearly eight billion shekels ($2.4 billion dollars), nearly triple the original projections.
In order to recoup the additional two billion shekels ($624 million) in funding required for the project, the Transportation Ministry will reprioritize other projects, namely new lines for Haifa's Metronit rapid-transport bus system and plans to expand Israel's first toll road, Route 6.
Some of the work on the line – mainly planning and infrastructure – has already been performed to the tune of 250 million shekels. But even if the project had been scrapped that work would not have gone to waste as it would have still served public transportation needs in the area.
A decision on the project had to be made by the end of the year to avoid the imposition of higher compensatory fees in the event that the Transportation Ministry were to decide to cancel the project a few months from now. Canceling the project later on, as opposed to now, would have also increased the ministry's potential exposure to lawsuits.
The light rail is slated to run along a 41-kilometer (25-mile) route from Haifa through the Krayot suburbs north and east of the city to Nazareth and then Nof Hagalil (formerly Upper Nazareth) in roughly 55 minutes from end to end. The projected trip duration is not much shorter than it would be by car, sans traffic, but promises to provide more comfort and advanced service than bus.
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The system's envisioned technology slightly differs from that used in the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv light rail systems, as it is adapted to the area’s hilly terrain.
The project has previously been touted as a significant means of promoting Israel's northern region, and reducing public transportation gaps prevalent in Arab communities. With more than 200,000 residents, the Nazareth-Nof HaGalil area has the densest population in the Galilee region.
Cancelling the project would have gutted TransIsrael, the government company heading it up, of the main project under its purview, and would have posed a threat to the continuation of its activities. Since the project's gotten back on track, the company posted a tender over the weekend for the construction of a series of bridges in Haifa to run 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) that would be the country's longest bridge.
Later this month, two more huge tenders are expected to be published for the design and construction of bridges and tunnels along the light rail's route. In total, the three tenders have a projected scope of about one billion shekels ($312 million).