Tel Aviv Needs a Subway

Finance Ministry economists insisted that buses are the best solution for public transportation in central Israel. Now, years later, they are stuck in traffic along with the rest of us.

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
Traffic jam on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway.
Traffic jam on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway.Credit: David Bachar
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

For years, those who reside in the greater Tel Aviv area or commute to work there have been stuck in traffic jams. For years, it has been clear that the alleviation of this problem in one of the most densely populated areas of the world requires adding an underground level to meet some of the transportation needs of the area – a subway. Like hundreds of metropolitan areas throughout the world. Like Seoul, Cairo and Athens.

For years, no progress has been made to solve a problem, which results in great costs in time and money and contributes to air pollution of the area. So what is the reason that a subway is not up and running in the greater Tel Aviv area, even though hundreds of millions have been spent on the project over the years?

The problem starts with the Finance Ministry, or more exactly with its budget department. Its young and precocious economists are convinced they know everything and seem to have an aversion to technology, which they demonstrated when they fought tooth and nail against the Lavi fighter project at Israel Aerospace Industries, and some years later when they objected to transforming Rafael Advanced Defense Systems from a department of the Defense Ministry to a government company.

As for dealing with traffic problems in the Tel Aviv area, they insisted that no subway was needed and that buses constituted the best solution. They pointed to a city in Brazil that had solved its traffic problems with buses, and hired a Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor to prove that the potential demand in the Tel Aviv area would not justify building a subway. Thus, they stalled the project for years.

They received their just rewards when years later, now ensconced in senior positions in the financial industry in Tel Aviv, they found themselves stuck in Tel Aviv traffic day after day.

When the youngsters at the Finance Ministry eventually succumbed, they came up with a concoction of a hybrid light rail solution that would run part of the way underground and part of the way above ground, because by their calculation it would be cheaper than a subway. Consequently, they lost the advantage of a subway which requires no space above ground, requires no right of way at intersections, and can run straight through underground. This is where the project stands today, after years wasted and lots of money lost.

It takes a great engineering project to relieve the traffic congestion in the greater Tel Aviv area, possibly one of the greatest engineering projects undertaken in Israel. It requires professional managers with proven experience in running big engineering projects. It is not a project to be managed by party hacks. Yet the people put in charge of managing this giant project have been taken from the roster of political party members with no relevant prior professional experience.

The danger now is that the whole project could be abandoned, and that the residents and commuters of the greater Tel Aviv area will be condemned to working their way through traffic jams for years to come. Hopefully that is not what is going to happen.

The project should be redefined as a subway running automatically underground all the way, like some lines of the Paris Metro. A management team experienced in running large engineering projects should be chosen, possible from the ranks of engineers at Rafael or IAI, who have successfully managed large projects in the past. Or alternately, the management of the project could be subcontracted to one of these organizations. Then a foreign engineering firm experienced in planning and constructing subway lines should be chosen.

And then, finally, after so much time and money has been wasted, traffic congestion in the greater Tel Aviv area will be relieved in a few years.

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