New Jerusalem Light-rail Route Gets the Green Light

The 1-kilometer Emek Refaim route connects the junction of Emek Refaim and Bethlehem roads to the north with the Oranim junction to the south

A rendering of the new light-rail route.

After some three years of deliberations, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee recently decided that a new light-rail route will traverse Emek Refaim Street, in the German Colony.

Since the Blue Line was first approved, neighborhood residents have demanded that the route be changed or a tunnel built for the rail line. Residents have said they’ll continue their battle, but at this point it seems their only legal recourse is an administrative petition.

In a statement, the subcommittee for objections said its members were persuaded that the approved route is the best option for all residents of the city. “The route will improve access to Emek Refaim Street and the area [without causing] damage to historic buildings and with very limited damage to the ancient trees.”

The 1-kilometer Emek Refaim route connects the junction of Emek Refaim and Bethlehem roads to the north with the Oranim junction to the south.

In the northern part of the street, which regularly has heavy traffic, the light rail will operate on a single track in order to allow access for residents’ cars.

The section completes the Blue Line connecting southern Jerusalem (especially the Katamonim neighborhood) with the existing light rail line, which passes through the city center.

Committee members examined many alternatives. When the alternatives were submitted to the district committee in November, it was found that building a tunnel would be very expensive and much more complex that using Emek Refaim Street, and the committee decided in favor of the street.

The residents caused the planning committees to separate the Emek Refaim section from the overall light rail plan, and in recent months the municipality and the district committee advanced a new plan for the Emek Refaim section only. It was not approved by the local Jerusalem committee, but Ami Arbel, Jerusalem’s deputy planning director, said on January 21 that the municipality supports the plan, which is actually a continuation of the Blue Line, declaring that he represents the new mayor and local committee chairman.

One of the leaders of the opposition to the route is German Colony resident Prof. Ariel Hirschfield. “Our fight won’t end here,” he said. “This decision is very shaky, and we’re continuing the fight. We spoke to the mayor and his position is neutral.:

Refaim Bamoshavot, an organization that is fighting the move, said: “There’s nothing surprising about the regional committee’s step. Before the election [former Mayor] Nir Barkat transferred many planning and building projects to the district committee, wholesale and in contradiction to the law, preventing the local committee from discussing them. Anyone who values the law must protest against his inacceptable procedures.”

But city planner and attorney Itamar Shahar, one of the activists who supported the light rail route via Emek Refaim, said that the move “won’t destroy the German Colony, but just the opposite — it will breathe life into the street, upgrade the public space and mainly, serve all the residents living along the route and link them efficiently to the center and north of the city.”

Shahar called on opponents of the plan “to channel resources inward and cooperate with us as one community, to ensure that the plan is implemented as quickly as possible and that businesses won’t suffer.”