The Jerusalem Development Authority has declined to publish a report it commissioned on the economic feasibility of a cable car to the Western Wall, a project whose opponents fear would harm the Old City landscape while strengthening the Jewish settlement in the Arab neighberhood of Silwan.
The agency was responding to a request by the archaeological group Emek Shaveh to release the report under the Freedom of Information Law; it said that doing so “could disrupt progress on the project and its optimum implementation.”
In recent years the authority has pushed for expedited planning of the cable car, together with the municipality and the Tourism Ministry, through the National Infrastructure Committee.
According to the plan, the cable car will extend from the restored old railway station at one end of Emek Rephaim Street via the neighborhood of Abu Tor and across the Hinnom Valley. It will have a stop at the parking lot on Mount Zion and continue from there to a stop above a large visitor center, currently under construction by the right-wing group Elad in Silwan.
Passengers can alight there and walk to the Western Wall. The cable car is planned as a public transportation line that supporters say will ease access to the Old City and obviate the need for the dozens of buses that currently reach the Old City every day.
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The plan was approved for deposit with the National Infrastructure Committee, the phase in which the public can view it and register objections.
In declining to reveal the contents of the economic feasibility report, the official in charge of freedom of information at the Jerusalem Development Authority, Yael-Esther Maimon, told Emek Shaveh that the document was “internal.” She said that it “contained economic and commercial information intended for the formulation and advancement of the project, and revealing it, wholly or in part, could disrupt progress on the project and its optimum implementation.”
The authority also says that the cable car is not a tourist attraction but part of the city’s public transportation system. However, the cable car is not included in Jerusalem’s new public bus network announced by the Transportation Ministry around three weeks ago.
According to that plan, the Old City will be served by a new bus line and the three existing lines will be beefed up. This contradicts the plan described by the Jerusalem Development Authority, which states that bus lines around the Old City will be canceled after the cable car goes into operation.
Emek Shaveh says that the authority’s refusal to disclose the report shows that it has something to hide. “The fact that a project costing 200 million shekels [$54 million] is not transparent and that a public entity is concealing documents about its necessity, while it’s moving ahead in the National Infrastructure Committee, presents big question marks on the motives for its construction.”
Emek Shaveh also said the fact that the development authority promised that the cable car will eliminate the need for public transportation to the Western Wall, while the Transportation Ministry will be adding bus lines to the area, “casts a long shadow over the need for the cable car.”
Emek Shaveh said the project had been approved on the basis of partial and biased information and that it was not too late to re-examine it.
The Jerusalem Development Authority responded: “The cable car is a complementary transportation solution for Jerusalem residents who want to travel in the area of the Old City. Local population growth and the number of tourists requires an efficiency .... at low costs and a short construction time."
As the authority put it, “From these points of view, the advantages of the cable car are clear: the ability to move some 3,000 passengers an hour, reduction in the number of buses and private cars on the roads around the Old City, and as a result – a dramatic decline of dozens of percentage points in air pollution in the area.”