The Transportation Ministry and Israel Railways are advancing a plan to build an expressway for public transportation near Netanya that would encroach on the future site of a nature reserve near the city.
The proposed busway would follow the route of the railway tracks near Netanya and involve paving part of the Poleg Marsh, which boasts a rich variety of plant and animal life. It is part of a wider plan to increase rail service between Haifa’s Hof Hacarmel station in the north and Shfayim, just north of Herzliya.
The National Infrastructure Committee is expected to table the plan for public comments shortly.
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Environmental organizations say the busway is unnecessary and will cause grave damage to the ecology of the area.
The plan proposed by Israel Railways includes increasing the number of railway tracks and building additional train stations in the area. On the segment between Netanya and Shfayim it was decided later to build a road for the exclusive use of buses and minibuses to the east of the railway. The project will connect Shfayim to a large industrial zone that is planned for eastern Netanya and to adjacent residential neighborhoods. It was initiated by the Transportation Ministry, presumably at the request of Netanya, which wants to improve public transportation access to the city’s industrial zones.
Israel Railways say the busway is necessary to improve public transportation services in the area and that building to the east of the rail tracks will do minimal damage to the open areas.
The planned road will encroach on the western part of the 50-acre swamp, whose seasonal pools draw large numbers of water birds as well as mammals such as foxes and swamp cats. Among the marsh’s prominent plants is the Cyperus papyrus, the papyrus sedge or Nile grass, which is in danger of extinction in Israel. Its great importance led to the decision to make the swamp and the adjacent bodies of water on the other side of the train tracks into a nature reserve.
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The proposed busway was mentioned only briefly in the environmental impact statement for the projects as a whole. Environmental organizations and the Hof Hasharon Regional Council fear the road, if built, could set a dangerous precedent in the area.
Yariv Malihi, a wildlife ecologist for the central district of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, says the marsh is important for flood drainage and has been classified as one of five sites that are to be given priority in declaring them nature reserves. He adds that the busway “will interrupt the planned reserve and damage the swamp.”
Ami Lazar, director of infrastructure for the central district of the INPA, says he has no problem with the railway expansion but thinks the busway is unnecessary.
Droy Boymel, head of planning at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the representative of the umbrella organization for environmental groups on the National Infrastructure Committee, says he fears the planned busway, which he says will cause damage disproportionate to its benefit, will be opened to all motor vehicles in the feature.
The Hof Hasharon Regional Council has jurisdiction over the area included in the plan. Council head Eli Bracha also expressed opposition to the busway.
In a statement, Netanya municipality said that the promotion of effective public transportation in the city and beyond has led it to support and welcome the planned busway.
The Transportation Ministry did not respond to requests for comments.