To paraphrase the old axiom, there was a time when all roads in Israel led to Tel Aviv. If you wanted to go from Ashkelon, Be'er Sheva or Jerusalem to Netanya, Haifa or Safed, you'd have to spend an extra half hour or more on the road unless you left after the rush-hour motorists had gone to bed. There were simply no highways that bypassed Tel Aviv and its environs.
All of that changed more than ten years ago, when the initial sections of Route 6, Israel's first toll road, opened. The new road ran parallel to the Mediterranean, but was far enough inland to be out of bounds to the urban sprawl along the coastline. While Israelis found paying a toll to use a road daunting at first, they have come to appreciate the savings in time and gasoline, and Route 6 has grown extremely popular – and profitable to the private company that built and operates it. Over the years, Route 6 has expanded, both lengthwise, stretching further north and south, and widthwise, with additional lanes in the more traffic-congested original section.
But don't expect to find any tollbooths. The road employs sophisticated cameras to read your license plates as you enter and exit the highway. For subscribers who had the E-ZPass equivalent installed above their windshields, the road's transponders automatically register their arrival and departure. Fees range from NIS 18 to NIS 30, based on how many interchanges you pass through. The bill is issued quarterly and is mailed to the address listed in your automobile registration. If you're driving a rental, expect to see the extra charge appear on your credit card bill a few months later, in addition to an NIS 50 (or so) handling fee that the rental company will tack on.
Between the Kessem and Iron interchanges, parts of the road straddle the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank, so don't be surprised if you see sections of the separation fence along your drive. Taking Route 6 is a drive into the geopolitical history of the Middle East: It was built during the second intifada, when sniper fire was frequently directed at its construction crews. Areas near the Palestinian cities of Qalqilyah and Tul Karem made for easy targets, so the road's planners built forbidding concrete walls in place of chain-link fences.
And if you happen to take the northernmost section, between the Iron and Ein Tut interchanges, you'll notice that the road passes through two tunnels, each of which is so short and trifling that it would have been much more logical to simply blast away the rock formation overhead. This is, in fact, the elegant Route 6 solution to an environmental dilemma: This section of the road passes through the breeding grounds of a nearly extinct amphibian, the Southern Banded Newt; without the bridges, the he-newt might never meet the she-newt. So when you drive through the tunnel, keep your eyes on the road, and give the critters above a few seconds of privacy!
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