Is It Worth NIS 2 Billion to Prevent Flooding on Tel Aviv's Main Highway?

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The flooding and closure of the Ayalon Highway on Tuesday enraged Israeli drivers who were stuck for hours in massive traffic jams. They had plenty of time to ponder how in Israel, in 2013, a major thoroughfare in central Israel could be immobilized by mere rain.

Transportation Ministry officials were quick to blame the Agriculture Ministry, which handles drainage systems.

“We do all we can to keep roads open, and deal with localized problems to the best of our ability," said a senior transportation ministry official. “However, there is not much we can do when a stream overruns its banks. Infrastructure is a network containing open areas. When these get flooded due to insufficient drainage, the water heads straight toward the roads."

In the wake of the stormy weather conditions in Israel this week, drainage in the area surrounding the Ayalon Highway has become a flash point among authorities. This drainage system covers a large area of the coastal plain and the Shomron region; it contains the major thoroughfare and a railway line as well. The existing system can handle volumes of up to 400 cubic meters of water per second, but this limit was exceeded Tuesday, with 440 cubic meters of water flowing per second, which flooded the highway. The last time that scenario played out was in 2000 and before that in 1992.

Knowledgeable sources said it is not possible to deepen the channel along the route, and that a capacity of 600 cubic meters per second would be required to prevent flooding. An additional railway line that is planned is also expected to further limit drainage capacity.

Several plans are under review: The cheapest calls for the construction of holding reservoirs to contain the excess water. Another proposes the construction of an underground pipeline to divert some of the floodwater to the sea, which would allow the construction of additional railway lines. Constructing this pipeline is expected to cost NIS 1.5-NIS 2 billion.

Transportation officials said that solutions are possible, but question the high cost required for dealing with such rare occurrences. Many of the required investments entail improving drainage systems throughout the area, but for such large-scale investments, planning is required on a national scale.

Rainwater filling the usually dry Ayalon Stream alongside the main highway in Tel Aviv Sunday, January 6, 2013.Credit: Moti Milrod

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