(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
The cabinet on Wednesday approved a wide-ranging plan to revolutionize the country’s transportation network at a cost of some NIS 60 billion over the next decade.
“This decision is first and foremost an achievement for Israel,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said after the plan passed by a 19-4 vote, with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz abstaining.
“Finally, after 62 years, we made the decision to link the Negev and the Galilee, and to break out north and south from what has been called the ‘Hadera-Gadera state.’ Linking the Galilee and Negev to a network of highways and train lines will bring those areas employment, equal opportunities, and greater housing and development opportunities,” Netanyahu said.
However, Vice Premier and Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom, who is responsible for development in the Negev and Galilee, voted against the plan. He said it did not go far enough, since contrary to the original plan, neither Eilat nor Kiryat Shmona were to be linked to the Central region by railway until 2030.
“What is needed is a change of the government’s priorities,” Shalom said, “and channeling resources to the northern and southern peripheral areas.”
Other objections to the plan had to do with the huge cost. Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said he was concerned that this would divert funds desperately needed for social services. While road infrastructure and trains were important, he asserted, “people are more important.”
“The project as it was presented is so large that it is likely to tie up any possible budgetary surplus in the next few years for infrastructure development and transportation, at the expense of other national interests. Since there was no discussion on priorities, we are likely to find ourselves in a situation where welfare needs will not be met,” he said.
Herzog, like Shalom, voted against the proposal, as did Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.
Netanyahu said at the opening of a cabinet meeting – which was held Wednesday, rather than next Sunday, which is Purim – that the huge transportation improvement plan was necessary to “facilitate movement in our small country, to give equality of social opportunity to all Israelis, in the South, North and Center, and to create a strong economic engine for the continued growth of Israel. Twenty-first-century Israel must have a transportation network that is up to the standards that we find in other countries.”
The plan calls for a rail line linking Karmiel – and the 400,000 people
living in the region – with Tel Aviv at a price of NIS 3.4b. Travel
time, according to information provided the ministers, would be reduced
from some three hours to about 70 minutes. Another rail line to be
built for NIS 3.4b. would link Haifa to Afula and Beit She’an. In
addition, Highway 6 would be extended both northward to Kabri and
southward to Shoket, at a cost of some NIS 3b.
Another NIS 2.5b. will be spent on extending and improving roads in the
Galilee, and a whopping NIS 11.2b. is to be budgeted to upgrade the
country’s railway lines, locomotives and cars.