Israelis Get Ready for Years of Unprecedented Traffic Jams

Motorists in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa to face narrowed, blocked roads as major transportation projects get underway.

Daniel Schmil
Daniel Schmil
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Daniel Schmil
Daniel Schmil

If you think the traffic back-ups at Motza outside Jerusalem or on Jabotinsky Street in Ramat Gan are bad, just wait. Over the next several weeks, construction work is slated to begin on upgrading Route 1 between the capital and Tel Aviv at the same time tunneling for the Gush Dan Light Rail project gets underway, both of which will create unprecedented snarls.

And if that isn't enough, work recently began in Jerusalem on extending its light rail system, while Haifa started construction on its Metronit network of buses guided by magnets placed under the road. All of these projects aim to ease traffic into and out of the major cities. But until they are completed they will have exactly the opposite effect, blocking and narrowing existing traffic corridors and routinely creating snarls.

The cliche "no pain, no gain" has a certain relevance in this case. But the authorities appear not to be making much effort to find creative solutions to make life less miserable for drivers while men are at work. The prevailing attitude is another cliche: "That's the price of progress."

Upgrading Route 1

The gain: Widening the road entering Jerusalem and upgrading the 16 mountainous kilometers between the Sha'ar Hagai interchange and the entrance to the city. The plans include adding a third lane in each direction, widening the shoulders and digging a tunnel under the Castel ascent. The dangerous Motza curve outside the city will be replaced by a bridge and Neveh Ilan will get a full-fledged interchange.

The timetable: Tenders have already been published and work is scheduled to run between 2013 and 2016.

The cost: NIS 2.6 billion.

The pain: The National Roads Company, which is undertaking the project, promises to keep two lanes open in each direction while work is underway. But experience teaches that drivers tend to travel more slowly when there is construction work around them. Because existing shoulders are narrow, construction equipment will have to use the roads. Route 443 will see more traffic as a result, but planners are weighing options for how to ease congestion there, among them adding a third lane. Alternatively, a reduction in bus fares has been proposed to encourage public transportation. None of the proposals has yet been adopted.

Gush Dan Light Rail

The gain: Red Line will link Petah Tikva to Bat Yam via Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan and central Tel Aviv. Ten out of the line's 22 kilometers will be underground, from the Geha interchange to Manshiya compound in south Tel Aviv. Today, three shafts that will serve as access points for tunnel-boring machinery are being dug at various locations. An underground walkway at the Petah Tikva central bus station is also being constructed. So far, none of this has blocked roads, but next year the picture will change. Work will begin on 14 sections of the line, with cut-and-cover construction affecting Elifelet Street in Tel Aviv, Shenkar in Petah Tikva and several junctions, among them Jabotinsky and Bialik in Ramat Gan.

The timetable: Planners estimate work on the Red Line will last until the end of 2017. But Metropolitan Mass Transit System Ltd., which is responsible for the planning, is weighing whether to begin work on the Green Line simultaneously. That line will connect Rishon Letzion to Ramat Hasharon and includes a tunnel under Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv. That work will run to the end of the decade.

The cost: NIS 11 billion (Red Line only ).

The pain: Construction will be taking place in the heart of Israel's most populated metropolitan area, resulting in unprecedented traffic tie-ups along major arteries. Thousands of vehicles will be redirected to other routes that are narrower and cannot handle the volume of traffic. Planners are only now starting to considering solutions even though work has begun. They are considering a peak hour tax on vehicles to encourage the use of public transportation, but Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz rejected the idea. In the meantime, park-and-ride facilities are being built in Petah Tikva and Bat Yam. The government and the Dan bus cooperative talking about setting up bus rapid transit lines on the future light rail route.

Jerusalem Light Rail

The gain: The existing line is being extended south from Mount Herzl to the Ora junction and then on to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem. At the same time, the line will be extended north to the Neveh Yaakov neighborhood. Another line will be developed between the Mount Scopus and Givat Ram campuses of Hebrew University, as well as a bus rapid transit line from Ammunition Hill and the central bus station by way of Bar-Ilan Street.

The timetable: The initial infrastructure work has started, and the entire project is slated for completion by 2016.

The cost: Infrastructure work will run to about NIS 300 million and the campus line another NIS 50 million.

The pain: The body responsible for the project insists that the impact on Jerusalem's main traffic corridors will be minimal. But the work on the bus rapid transit project, which begins next year, will create back-ups, mainly on Bar-Ilan Street. For now, no major efforts are being made to ease any problems.

Haifa Metronit

The gain: A bus rapid transit system comprising 100 high-capacity vehicles will operate on three lines running a total of 37 kilometers - one from the northern Krayot to the Carmel beach by way of Route 4, the second from Kiryat Ata to the Bat Galim terminal via Route 4 and Haifa's lower city, and the third from Kiryat Yam and Kiryat Haim to Haifa's Hadar section.

The timetable: The first line is scheduled to begin operating by the end of the year.

The cost: NIS 1.7 billion.

The pain: Haifa residents and those trying to get into the city have already been suffering the past two years from heavy traffic, mainly at the Tsabar and Check Post junctions as well as in the lower city and Hadar. No special efforts are being made to ease the congestion aside from redirecting traffic to other routes. The opening of the Carmel tunnel has helped, and the city is hoping the disruption from construction will be minimal.

Heavy traffic at the end of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, Sept. 28, 2011.Credit: David Bachar
The biggest infrastructure projects in Israel today.
Heavy traffic at the end of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, Sept. 28, 2011.Credit: David Bachar

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