Jerusalem's ring road, intended to improve municipal road conditions by encircling the city with 35 kilometers of new roads, bridges and tunnels, has been under discussion for decades, as reported in In Jerusalem ("Running rings around us," January 20). Recently, the project advanced one step further, when the municipality's Construction and Planning department approved the 15 km. eastern extension of Highway 5. The NIS 750 million project will connect Sur Bahir and East Talpiot in the south with highway 45, north of Abu Dis. Pending approval by the Jerusalem Regional Planning and Building Council, the controversial road will be constructed by the Moriah Development Corporation Ltd. Extending over 1,015 dunams, it will include three tunnels running underneath the Mount of Olives and a bridge over the Kidron Valley. While advocates insist that the road will make Jerusalem a wealthier city and a better place to live, proposals for the road have also provoked concern about its political, economic and environmental implications. Conceived to ease congestion in the city center and accommodate an expanding population, the east Jerusalem ring road will provide an alternative route from north to south via the eastern part of Jerusalem. Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem had initially opposed the new road, claiming it will necessitate land expropriations. The city's Arab residents feared that the road would connect Jewish neighborhoods and settlements at their expense and that they would be provided inadequate access to the road while disproportionately suffering from the added noise and pollution it created. At least part of the delay in construction has been caused by the district planning committee's decision to give further consideration to these objections. To date, planners have re-routed the highway to reduce the number of homes that will be bulldozed and added a still-unspecified number of on-off ramps that will ostensibly make the road more useful as a transportation corridor serving the Arab residents of the eastern side of the city. The number of homes that will be destroyed and the extent of lands to be expropriated remains unclear. Potentially, the road will allow traffic to flow between Ramallah and Bethlehem without entering central Jerusalem. However, security experts warn that this poses a serious security threat and the security barrier will most likely prevent the smooth flow of traffic.

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