The Road to Perdition

The drive to Jerusalem has been a nightmare for a long time now. Anyone who wants to get where they are going, and get there on time, has to leave plenty of leeway - for an accident here, a roadblock there, or just an ordinary traffic jam.

The drive to Jerusalem has been a nightmare for a long time now. Anyone who wants to get where they are going, and get there on time, has to leave plenty of leeway - for an accident here, a roadblock there, or just an ordinary traffic jam. The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway is hazardous, old and unfit for the 21st century.

Because we are talking about Route 1, the road that leads to Israel's capital, the National Roads Authority (formerly the Public Works Authority, known by its Hebrew acronym Ma'atz), has devised a rescue plan for the highway - or a rescue plan for motorists, to be more exact. All the transportation experts agree that the highway is on the verge of collapse due to traffic overload and serious safety hazards. Everyone knows that the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway suffers from a whole host of problems: sharp turns, perilous inclines and, last but not least, the Motza Junction - a real "wall of death."

The time has clearly come to widen the road, pave shoulders on both sides that comply with safety regulations, straighten out the winding curves, dig a 600-meter-long tunnel to bypass the steep Kastel incline, and build an 800-meter-long overpass to eliminate the death trap at Motza. This, in fact, is the plan proposed by the National Roads Authority.

But anyone who thinks that this plan will be turned over to the National Infrastructure Committee for approval, and that work will begin swiftly and smoothly, does not know where he is living. Why? Because the greens have marched in. If it were up to them, we would go back to using the old Burma Road. From their point of view, we do not need Route 1 altogether. All it is, in their eyes, is a gaping wound in the natural landscape.

But since dragging us back in time to 1948 is impossible, they have spent years opposing any change - any widening of the road near Sha'ar Hagai, or any other upgrading or development of the most important and most congested highway in the country. The terrible accidents and climbing death toll make no impression on them.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva V'Din) is fiercely critical of the highway upgrade plan. It warns that no road is worth the damage that would be inflicted on the landscape. Going ahead with this plan would cause shocking harm to the environment and ruin the experience of traveling to Jerusalem.

What experience are they talking about? The experience of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic? Of treacherous curves and scary descents? Of driving behind trucks that block one of the two lanes?

As always, the greens are promoting their favorite solution - the train. They say that we should leave our cars home and travel to Jerusalem by high-speed train (which does not yet exist, and when it will be built, no one knows). That is the most annoying response of all - a patronizing approach that tries to tell others how to live.

Do the heads of these green organizations take the train? Have they sold their private cars? As far as they are concerned, let the citizens of Israel wait in line for the train. Let them lose their freedom of movement and be dependent on schedules and absurd timetables for a train that does not even exist. Let them try to travel by train on holiday eves and Saturdays.

The greens also fought with all their might against Route 6. They managed to delay the construction of this highway for seven whole years, by submitting countless objections to the planning authorities, along with 21 petitions to the High Court of Justice. The Trans-Israel Highway was supposed to link up the far reaches of the Negev with the high peaks of the Galilee years ago. Thanks to the greens and their never-ending stream of objections, only the central segment exists today.

Even so, everyone can see its tremendous benefit to the periphery and the way it has eased pressure on the coastal road. Route 6, even as is, has made it easier for residents of outlying areas to work and pursue leisure activities in Gush Dan and Jerusalem. That is a major gain for society. On top of that, it has created a link, physical and emotional, to a strip of eastern countryside that was once beyond the reach of many Israelis.

It is good that we have green organizations fighting to preserve the environment and the natural landscape. Most of their causes are worthy and important, such as their current battle against the megalomaniac Jerusalem expansion plan. But please, do not go overboard. Give us the opportunity to drive to Jerusalem on a road that will get us there efficiently, allow us to enjoy the "travel experience" and, above all, see us home safe and sound.