Shuttered, and Not Because of the Pandemic: Tel Aviv's Public Transport Projects Cause Major Disruption

In addition to three light rail lines that will crisscross the metropolitan area, the city’s network of bike lanes is being expanded and later a subway system will link the farther-flung suburbs

Osnat Nir
Osnat Nir
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Work on a Tel Aviv light rail station.
Work on a Tel Aviv light rail station, 2019.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Osnat Nir
Osnat Nir

Tel Aviv is looking more like a construction site than a thriving urban space these days – full of traffic jams and dust and residents who may be wondering when their street might be closed to traffic. Such is life in Israel’s largest metropolitan area due to several major projects that are aimed at changing the face of transportation in and around the city – but they’re being carried out nearly at the same time.

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They include first and foremost work on three light rail lines that will crisscross the metropolitan area. Then there is the paving of priority lanes for public transportation and bike paths. The third project is the Metro subway network, which will considerably expand rail service beyond the three light rail lines.

Construction of the first light rail line, the Red Line, which will run from Petah Tikva to Bat Yam through Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv, isn’t projected to be completed until at least a year beyond its original target date of October 2021.

While the government has yet to officially approve the delay, the timetable for the project has already been revised. And if that weren’t enough, the congestion in the city can soon be expected to get worse due to infrastructure work in the coming years on the other two light rail lines – the Green Line (from Herzliya to Rishon Letzion through Tel Aviv) and the Purple Line (from Givat Shmuel to Tel Aviv’s Arlosoroff bus and train terminal).

The construction of each of these two lines involves work both above and below the ground. In two weeks, commercial firms will be invited to submit bids on the huge 15 billion shekel ($4.5 billion) project above ground. The successful bidder will be announced within the next year or two.

The underground construction work on the lines, which is being carried out by NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit, a government corporation, began in late 2018 and is expected to massively expand in the coming months.

The western stretch of Arlosoroff Street between Ibn Gabirol and Dizengoff will be partially closed to traffic shortly due to work on the Purple Line. Two-way traffic on that section of the street will only resume in the fall of 2021, at which point work is expected to begin on the eastern end of Arlosoroff. In other words, this major Tel Aviv thoroughfare won’t be accommodating normal traffic anytime in the considerable future.

Jerusalem Blvd. in Jaffa. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

“According to NTA’s approved work plan, other than the Arlosoroff segment, which is delayed due to the discovery of unknown infrastructure deep in the ground, no other section of the green or purple lines was due to have been completed by now,” NTA said in response for this article, adding that “one of the segments on the Green Line is due to be completed two months ahead of schedule.”

Additional road closures are imminent and are to last until March due to work that the Tel Aviv municipality is carrying out to expand bicycle paths on Herzl Street and Dizengoff. Traffic on the Haganah bridge adjacent to Tel Aviv’s Haganah train station will be limited to a lane in each direction in November. The stretch is near Tel Aviv’s central bus station on a street that currently serves upwards of 50 buses an hour.

In December and January, other streets in central and southern Tel Aviv, including sections of Ben Yehuda and Ibn Gabirol, will be closed. Additional thoroughfares in the center of the city will follow 2021.

While 85 percent of the infrastructure work for the Green Line and the Purple Line had been slated to be finished by now, NTA announced a year ago that the Green Line would miss its 2026 target date by one year. The Purple Line, which is also running behind schedule, is officially due to open in 2024.

For her part, however, Deputy Mayor Meital Lehavi, who is responsible for the transportation portfolio at city hall, said that to the extent that postponing work leads to it being done over a shorter period of time, residents will actually be less adversely affected. “Better a delay at the beginning of the work than during the work,” she said.

In support of her argument, Lehavi cites the situation on Jerusalem Boulevard in Jaffa (within the boundaries of the municipality, which is formally known as Tel Aviv-Jaffa). “The certainty of the timetable is critical in planning national infrastructure work,” she said. “Any disruption in the timetable, as occurred with Jerusalem Boulevard, involves disproportionate harm to residents whose mobility is limited and to businesses whose livelihood is hurt.”

Delays also increase costs. In fact, an infrastructure report issued two weeks ago by the Prime Minister’s Office noted that the projected construction costs for the Purple Line and the Red line have ballooned from 8.6 billion shekels ($2.6 billion) and 19 billion shekels respectively just 18 months ago to 11 billion shekels and 20 billion shekels.

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