The Bottom Line / Riding in Low Gear

The Transportation Ministry is filled with optimists who demonstrate a lot of faith and a positive approach to life. That is the only explanation I can find for why none of the ministry's long-term plans is ever on time, but that doesn't keep the civil servants from keeping on believing - and planning.

This week, after four years of work, the master plan for mass transit in the Tel Aviv region was finished. According to the plan, there will be three light rail lines in the region, which will cover Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Bnei Brak, Bat Yam, Petah Tikva, Holon and Rishon Letzion - no less. The proposal is actually a good idea and important, particularly in light of the huge traffic congestion around and in Tel Aviv.

The problem is, as experience has taught us, that such plans usually remain on paper, or at least they are years behind schedule.

This is exactly what happened to the light rail lines. Three and a half years ago, the plan for the line from Rishon to Tel Aviv via Holon was ready. This was the southern end of the Green Line, which was supposed to connect to the first line, the Red Line.

According to the plan, the two lines were supposed to be ready by the end of 2010. But disagreements between municipalities, budget limitations, technical problems and more - all unexpected of course - led to many long delays. Now, according to the most optimistic forecasts, the Red Line will be ready in 2013, and the Green Line is nowhere on the horizon.

Light rail is not the only example of such large gaps between what was planned and reality in Israeli transportation. For example, in October 2003 Israel Railways published its five-year development plan. It included a fast train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, only 28 minutes each way. It was supposed to be finished in 2008. The Acre-Carmiel route was also scheduled to open in 2008, as well as the Valley Train between Haifa and Beit She'an via Afula in 2007.

It is not even worth explaining that none of these projects is anywhere near completion, and none will even be built according to the original plans.

As for roads, the situation is even more absurd. One is the Carmel Tunnels project, which includes two five-and-a-half kilometer tunnels. The project was approved by the cabinet in August 2000, and work was supposed to start mid-2003. The first cars were scheduled to enter a tunnel in October 2004.

Financing problems brought on delays, and the schedule was pushed back to 2008. However, the actual work started only six months ago, and optimistic estimates talk about three years of work.

There is no doubt about the importance of long-term planning, but it is also worth investing efforts in actually building what is planned. In the end, if everything went according to plan, you could have already taken the train from the capital to Tel Aviv in only 28 minutes in comfort,and then transfered to the light rail to finish your journey.

Oh, and in that same alternate universe the Pope inaugurated the new terminal at Ben-Gurion Airport in 2000.