Road Turns Into Death Trap as Traffic Returns to Jordan Valley

At the beginning of January, 20-year-old Sandra Khako of Kafr Qama was killed when the car she was traveling in with two friends went off the road in the Jordan Valley and collided with a commercial vehicle. Khako and her friends were traveling from Jerusalem to their town in the north of the country via Route 90, which links Eilat in the south to Metulla in the north.

For an unknown reason, the driver of the car Khako was traveling in went off the road on the stretch of road close to Beit Ha'arava at the northern end of the Dead Sea, and collided head on with the vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. Khako was killed, the driver was severely injured, and the second passenger sustained light-to-moderate wounds. The four people traveling in the van were also lightly to moderately wounded.

Ten days later, on January 11, 76-year-old Reuven Shechtman was killed on the same stretch of road. Shechtman and his wife were returning for a visit to Massua, when he suddenly veered off the road, for an unknown reason, and collided with a bus packed with children. The bus driver saw Shechtman and veered to the right, toward the safety barrier, in an attempt to avoid hitting him, but failed. Shechtman's wife was severely injured.

According to the Traffic Department, recent months have seen a worrying increase in the number of accidents on the 55-kilometer stretch of road between Na'ama, near Jericho, and the Bezeq Stream area. Department figures show that in November 2003, six people were killed there in two fatal accidents. In December, one person was killed and in January 2004, three people were killed in three accidents. A total of nine people were killed there in 2003, compared to just one in 2002, and none in 2001.

Route 90 comprises the eastern section of the Trans-Israel Highway. The Public Works Department is responsible for the problematic section, which has one lane, 3.5 meters wide, in each direction with no shoulders. There are a lot of twists and turns to this section of the road, and the maximum speed limit is thus 80 kilometers per hour. The section passes through Palestinian and Jewish towns and villages.

Chief Superintendent Moshe Algarissi, acting head of the Judea and Samaria Region Traffic Department, claims that the quality of the road has seriously deteriorated. He says that a department check of the 55-kilometer stretch found that the most dangerous part is a two-kilometer stretch between the Adam Junction and Argaman, where the majority of accidents occurred. The department discovered that most of those killed in accidents there are not locals and thus are not familiar with the sub-standard condition of the road. In many of the cases, speeding was the main cause of the accidents.

Algarissi believes that one reason for the increase in accidents along the road is that since 2001, and up until recent months, there was very light traffic along the route. Due to the security situation, many drivers refrained from using the road. The recent relative lull, however, means that drivers have gone back to the route. Algarissi adds that the PWD has apparently not carried out much maintenance work on the road because of the fall in use, and thus the road was not prepared for the increase in traffic.

The Traffic Department has decided to beef up its presence along the road and cooperate with the PWD to improve the road and thus reduce the number of accidents. Traffic Department and PWD officials are to visit the problematic section next week to see for themselves its poor condition. Four patrol cars will also be permanently deployed along the section and additional patrols may be added. Special campaigns will also be launched to urge drivers to take more care along the section.