A public campaign to block the building of a major interchange in the Jerusalem Forest was dealt a serious blow earlier this week when the High Court of Justice indicated it planned to reject a petition filed by local residents and environmental groups against the plan.
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In fact, the court on Monday even suggested that the petitioners withdraw the petition to avoid court costs and a possible harmful precedent, but the petitioners refused to do so. As a result, the court is expected to dismiss the petition shortly.
At issue is Route 16, which is meant to run from the curve of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway at Motza to the Begin highway near Shaare Zedek Medical Center. The road is meant to divert some of the heavy traffic from the city’s western entrance and allow faster access to the city’s southwestern neighborhoods.
The plan is being advanced by the National Roads Company, which, over the course of the planning process, agreed to move a substantial portion of the road underground, based on proposals made by the Jewish National Fund, which is responsible for management of the Jerusalem Forest.
But the road company remained adamant about building an above-ground interchange in the area of the Revida streambed in the middle of the forest. The environmental groups claim that building the interchange and the roads that will lead to it will cause massive damage to the forest, which over the years has been reduced in area by nearly two-thirds because of adjacent development. Their petition calls for the entire road link to be moved underground. The JNF joined the petition, even though it is also one of the respondents.
During the hearing Monday it emerged that the justices were not persuaded by the petitioners’ arguments regarding the effect of the interchange on the forest. The head of the panel, Justice Hanan Melcer, criticized the JNF for suddenly objecting to the interchange while not previously taking action to prevent it.
Prof. Alon Tal, a member of the JNF board of directors, said this wasn’t so. “It’s not correct that we didn’t do anything,” he said. “Our position had always been that if they’re already paving a road, let them use a tunnel in the Revida streambed area as well.”
The National Roads Company said the interchange had been carefully planned in cooperation with the JNF’s forestry officer and landscaping experts.
“Because of the tunnels, Route 16 will get more trees and paths; the road running through it will be repaired and the hiking path will be upgraded,” the company said. “The forest will become more accessible to the public. The area of the interchange comprises a total of one percent of the forest area, and will be built in any case near a gas storage area, which is an infrastructure installation.”
“The plan for this road is a simple case of outrageous short-sightedness,” said Tal. “Building the interchange will cause destruction to the most beautiful and ecologically significant urban forest in Israel. There is a lower-cost alternative that would involve extending the planned tunnel and linking it to the Begin highway near Shaare Zedek hospital.”
In advance of the hearing, the JNF submitted an opinion by ecologist and botanist Hagar Leshner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “The Revida streambed is located in the heart of the Jerusalem Forest,” she wrote. “The forest is a sensitive and fragile habitat, both because of its limited area and because of various threats, among them fires and accelerated development in the area.”