Jerusalemites and their visitors are in for at least four years of traffic jams
and headaches as the expansion to Highway 1 gets under way at the end of this
The NIS 2.5 billion project, whose current end date is in 2016,
will create three lanes in each direction from Sha’ar Hagai to the Sarkharov
Gardens, a distance of 16.5 kilometers.
The main goal is to create a
series of bridges and tunnels to eliminate the hairpin turns at the entrance to
Jerusalem that cause dozens of traffic accidents each year.
Phase one of
the project, 6.5 km. from Sha’ar Hagai to the Shoresh Interchange, will start at
the end of this summer. This part of the project will cost NIS 300 million and
is expected to take 3.5 years. The Neveh Ilan Interchange project is also
expected to start sometime before the end of this year, which will pave 4.5 km.
of new highway.
The project is funded by the Transportation and National
Infrastructure ministries and the National Road Safety
Transportation Minister Israel Katz insisted the construction
will cut 20 minutes off the travel time from Jerusalem to Tel
Architect Shai Baras, the general manager of the Israel National
Roads Company, recommended that travelers use Highway 443 through the West Bank
to north Jerusalem as an alternative route during the construction. In
conjunction with the renovations to Highway 1, 443 will also be widened to deal
with the expected increase of traffic.
The project has infuriated
residents of Mevaseret Zion. The current plan for Highway 1 is to close the
current two entrances to the suburb and create just one entrance and exit for
the entire Mateh Yehuda region, which is home to 80,000 people in the towns of
Abu Ghosh, Har Adar, Motza Illit and others.
“They’re going to destroy
our lives and they’re going to destroy the town, and they’re doing it without
thinking,” said Mevaseret Zion Mayor Arie Shamam, a 25-year-resident of the
town. He said while the citizens understood that Highway 1 needs to be updated
and supported the larger project, they opposed the decision to leave their
community with just one exit and entrance. Shamam added that members of the Home
Front Command supported his concern that in the event of a fire or terrorist
attack the single entrance could prove catastrophic.
Last year, residents
of Mevaseret Zion unsuccessfully petitioned the High Court of Justice to change
Shamam said they will continue to negotiate with the
Transportation Ministry to try to build additional ramps or bridges from the new
highway so they will have another entrance.
The Society for the
Protection of Nature in Israel noted that the project will have an enormous
negative effect on the Judean Mountain area, especially during construction. But
the organization did not oppose the project because it was clear that this was
the least destructive option, said Avraham Shaked, the general secretary of
conservation for the Judean Mountain Region.
Shaked added that despite
the destruction the highway will wreak on the surrounding area, there is one
positive spot: the construction of a “natural bridge,” a bridge covered with
plants and dirt and closed to motor traffic, which will be created for animals
to cross the highway. Similar bridges have had success in other parts of the
world, he said.