It might have taken 17 years to tunnel through the rock of Mount Carmel, but starting Wednesday, December 1, residents of Haifa and the north will be able to pass under the mountain in eight minutes. Of course, they'll have to pay for the pleasure of avoiding the 45-minute drive and 27 traffic lights that stand between Haifa's northern and southern boundaries.
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The bypass tunnel project, shown above, was launched in 1993, but hit every imaginable obstacle on the way, including statutory, legal and financial troubles. Ultimately, digging began in 2007, and finished recently, five months ahead of schedule.
The Mount Carmel conduit is actually comprised of several tunnels. The first two - one for each direction - start at the northern end of the coastal highway, at Haifa's southern entrance, and end near the city's Grand Canyon mall (Rupin junction ); at 3.1 kilometers, they're the country's longest tunnels. They're followed by two 1.3 kilometer tunnels, and then two 1.6 kilometer tunnels, which end at the Check Post junction.
The tunnels are 6.5 meters high, the speed limit is 80 kph, and they're closed to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
All this isn't free, as we intimated. The bypass tunnel, which cost NIS 1.22 billion to build, will be Israel's second toll road, after Route 6. Tolls for each half of the tunnel range from NIS 5.70 for private vehicles to NIS 28.50 for trucks. There will be toll booths at the tunnels' exit points; drivers can sign up for a membership, which will let them be charged automatically as they pass through the toll plaza, or stop at a toll booth to pay in cash or with a prepaid card.
In the last three years the project had been continued by the Carmelton group, consisting of Housing & Construction with Ashtrom. But the actual mining had been carried out by the Chinese company CCECC, which can claim the credit for finally bringing the project to a close five months ahead of the latest schedule.