Route 1 ‘Improvements’ Are News to Testy Jerusalem Commuters

Two-mile long traffic jams typically greet motorists leaving the capital.

A traffic jam on Route 1.
Olivier Fitoussi

The west-bound Motza bridge road that opened to great pomp and circumstance two months ago is creating serious difficulties for motorists leaving Jerusalem, who are encountering serious traffic jams at all hours of the day, not just during rush hour.

When the northern bridge was opened, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz declared, “The opening of the new bridge will improve the flow of traffic on one of the most important traffic arteries in Israel.” But travelers leaving Jerusalem have reason to wonder what Katz was talking about, as they face traffic backups as long as three kilometers.

The slowdown usually begins just after the Sakharov Gardens, at the point where Route 9 merges into the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway (Route 1) and continues until the Motza bridge meets the main road, slightly before the Harel Bridge.

The new bridge is one of two parallel 800-meter-long bridges that have three lanes in each direction. The bridges rise 30 meters above the Motza Valley and cut through the sharp curve at the bottom of the road leading to and from Maoz Zion (the Castel), which is known as the Motza curve. The northern bridge, the one that has opened, serves motorists going from Jerusalem toward Tel Aviv.

The southern bridge, going in the opposite direction, is expected to open in November, when the Harel Tunnel opens, and will eliminate the steep drop from the Castel into the dangerous Motza curve. The bridges cost an estimated 380 million shekels ($99.4 million).

The National Road Company said, “The problem has been known to us for years and is one of the reasons for the paving of the new road. One of the main problems with Route 1 is the Motza curve, which is not only dangerous but slows down traffic considerably.”

The merging of traffic from Route 9 with the traffic coming from the city exit also causes backups. That’s why the bridges were built, to annul the Motza curve and overcome the merging problem.

“At this point the bridge has only two lanes open, which is why the improvement has yet to be felt,” said the road company. “In half a year traffic will flow in three lanes in each direction and the problem will disappear.”