Jerusalem of Concrete

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A bus drives near Jerusalem's Old City and the Dome of the Rock last week.

The Transportation Ministry and Planning Administration are advancing the construction of three huge highways that will lead to Jerusalem through a number of entrances: Route 16, which is in advanced stages of construction; Route 39, which will pass through the Elah Valley; and a road that will be widened in the area of the Ora junction.

First of all, this will cause enormous environmental and ecological damage, requiring the destruction of the Elah Valley and Jerusalem Hills – one of the few and most beautiful and quiet natural areas left in Israel. In addition, the construction of the three huge entrance roads to the capital, which will join the two existing ones – Route 1 and Route 443 – is estimated to cost billions of shekels for each road. It is not only the price that is worrying, but also the dubious return from it, because the projects are expected to make the existing transportation crisis even worse.

Expanding roads is not the solution to traffic jams. To fight traffic jams, what is needed is an appropriate alternative in the form of a public transportation system, which has advantages over the use of private cars. Over the past five years it seems as if the Transportation Ministry understood this. The ministry declared a change in its approach on a number of occasions and began investing in mass transit projects to solve the serious transportation crisis.

The acceleration of mass transit projects can clearly be seen in Jerusalem, and those being built today include: the light rail lines – extending the Red Line along with the Green, Purple and Blue Lines that are under construction; a lane for public transportation at the entrance to the city; expanding train service to the capital; doubling bus operations; and the construction of a “park and ride” lot, which will enable leaving cars at the entrance to the city.

But it still seems that one of the Transportation Ministry’s hands doesn’t know what the other is doing. The enormous investments in public transport in the capital look like a joke in light of the fact that at the very same time the government is spending on building highways that will give clear priority to coming to the capital by car.

This is what happens when there are three different bodies promoting the roads, all of which are under the auspices of the Transportation Ministry: The National Roads Company of Israel, the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan Team, and The Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6) – and each of them is looking through its own narrow lens.

It seems that no one in the Transportation Ministry or the Planning Administration has stopped to examine the plans from above and wonder whether it is necessary to waste billions on projects planned 20 years ago, which will cause enormous damage and only exacerbate existing problems.

The State Comptroller harshly criticized the Transportation Ministry’s incompetence in 2019 as the body that is supposed to coordinate all the projects as a whole. Instead of acting on autopilot and promoting 20- year-old plans – which are no longer relevant – the ministry must stop these grandiose and superfluous projects. It is still not too late.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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