Damage Control

The planners behind the recently opened section of Road 6 did their best to reduce the highway's impact on the environment but admit that 'irreversible damage' was done.

Planning a road with a national impact is much more complicated than just pouring asphalt and building retaining walls, the builders of the Trans-Israel Highway have learned. The Trans-Israel Highway Company worked on the new, 17-kilometer section of Road 6, from the Wadi Ara interchange to the Ein Tut junction, near Yokne'am for 15 years, with a few long breaks to deal with stubborn opposition from environmentalists on one hand and ultra-Orthodox organizations on the other.

"I reached the conclusion long ago that we are not dealing merely with a road, but rather with an entire universe, with anthropology, history, politics, and of course ecology. For example, I never thought I'd be studying in depth the traffic patterns of gazelles in Ramot Menashe," the project's chief engineer, Reuven Levon, said.

Section 18, which opened two weeks ago, passes through a particular sensitive area, topographically speaking, with farmland, tree-covered hills, seven streams that cross the highway from east to west and four rural communities of a rural nature - "Israel?s Tuscany," as it has been branded. In addition to the usual consultants the planning team included an agronomist and an ecologist, and in the planning stages the route was changed at least four times.

The planning concept included a comprehensive approach to landscape, out of a desire to minimize damage to plant and animal life. To reduce the amount of digging and filling in, 14 bridges with a combined length of 2.5 kilometers were erected, and three tunnels for the passage of animals were dug. The traffic of heavy vehicles was restricted to narrow lanes that were rebuilt afterward. Old trees were transplanted, as were bulb plants such as squills and cyclamen, which were relocated to the sides of the new road. The landscaping plan included the digging of a pool for winter runoff near the Ein Tut junction. Near Nahal Barkan a park was built on top of a building refuse site, using soil excavated for the road."There were many discussions about how to situate the road within the topography," landscape architect Daphna Greenstein of Greenstein−Har-Gil Landscape Architecture explained. "For example, we decided that there would be a bridge over each hill that required more than seven meters of fill."

Levon and Greenstein admit that despite their efforts the highway causes irreversible damage to the sensitive ecology of Ramot Menashe. "One begins with the assumption that there will be an effect, which I call friction with nature, and there is damage," Greenstein says.

"The trick is in finding a way to cause the least damage and to strike the correct balance," she continued, adding, "This isn't an attempt to merely look 'green,' but a genuine effort to minimize damage. True, the heart genuinely bleeds over [what happens to] the landscape, but given this handicap we've done the best we can to make the road in the best possible way, from all standpoints."

On the political and legal fronts the planners faced a High Court of Justice petition submitted by environmentalists and an uproar around the discovery of ancient graves along the planned route. The High Court eventually rejected the environmentalists' claims, while ugly, curved retaining walls that do not match the landscaping treatment of the other parts of the road, were built around the graves. "The government spent NIS 70 million for the ultra-Orthodox. There was no political force willing to confront them," Levon said.

The company is now planning the next segments of the highway, from Yokne'am toward the Somekh junction, and south from Nahal Beit Kama to the Hanegev junction. Politics and asphalt are expected to clash in the south, too.

"We know there will be friction due to the complex issue of scattered Bedouin settlements," Levon said. "We hired someone who knows Bedouin culture and are studying the conflicts surrounding land ownership." The High Court petitions cannot be far behind.