A Two-way Road - More Tax or Better Maintenance?

"Sometimes it's better not to have a road than to levy another tax."

Such was the response from Accountant General Yaron Zelekha to a proposed toll for use of the southern portion of the Trans Israel Highway, put forth by the Ministry of Transportation. The proposal was presented to the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on Monday. Derech Eretz, owned by Africa Israel (37.5 percent) and Housing and Construction (37.5 percent), constructed the central portion of the road. The proposal was raised after a number feasibility studies have indicated that maintenance of the road, constructed by the state at a cost of NIS 1 billion, would not be attractive to private companies.

Senior Deputy Director of Planning and Economics in the Ministry of Transportation, Charlie Solomon, said during the meeting that the ministry is considering implementation of a NIS 2 toll on a 35 km stretch of the southern portion of the Trans Israel Highway, between the Sorek and Kiryat Gat interchanges. The ministry is also considering such a toll on other roads.

Zelekha, former CFO of Derech Eretz, believes that tolls should not be charged for the used of public roads through privatization of maintenance. "Tomorrow we will do it on the Geha Road," he adds. Committee Chairman Gilad Erdan (Likud) agreed, calling an increase in the number of toll roads "chutzpah."

Zelekha added that the proposed toll for use of the southern portion of the road would bring in NIS 0.8 billion from the public. The very fact of contracting with Derech Eretz on this matter creates an unnecessary cost, since 30 percent of the toll would be allocated for its very collection. "This is a charge levied on the weakest taxpayer, between Sderot and Be'er Sheva."

Representative of the Budgets Division Keren Turner, however, said that the toll is meant to provide a high quality, uniform level of maintenance - better than the existing level. The choice, she says, is between better quality service with a toll, or maintenance by the National Roads Company, with maintenance similar to that existing on other roads.