Ministry okays paving road, cutting J’lem-TA travel time

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July 12, 2011 03:37

Interior Ministry c'tee: Pair of tunnels to be quarried under Har Nof, Yefe Nof neighborhoods; Green groups slam potential damage to J'lem Forest.

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Israeli forest (illustrative).

Jerusalem Forest 190. (photo credit:Jack Tonhaben)

Amid public criticism and demonstrations outside its offices on Monday morning, an Interior Ministry committee approved plans to construct Road 16, which is slated to connect Road 1 to the Menachem Begin Highway by running through the Jerusalem Forest and underneath several city neighborhoods, the ministry announced later that day.

The Committee of National Planning and Construction of National Infrastructure, a section of the Interior Ministry’s Planning Commission headed by Ephraim Shlain, determined that two pairs of tunnels – 1,500 and 1,350 meters, respectively – would be quarried under the neighborhoods of Har Nof and Yefe Nof, meeting above ground at an intersection near the Revida Stream in the upper Jerusalem Forest, according to a statement from the ministry.

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The area above ground “will connect the routes to the system in order to enable fast and convenient connection to the busy area in Givat Shaul,” the statement said.

“Road 16 will be a new entrance to Jerusalem from the west and will enable direct connection to southern neighborhoods, without needing to pass through the Sokhorov Gardens or through the string bridge,” the ministry added. “Establishing the road will reduce the current burden at the entrance to Jerusalem and will therefore cut the volume of the traffic crossing the artery of Sderot Herzl.”

Meanwhile, the plans include intentions to rehabilitate and develop the forest areas between Degania Road and the hillside of Givat Shaul, where access is currently very limited, according to the statement.

Meanwhile, Green groups are far from pleased with this plan.

“We are particularly concerned about the parts of the road that are due to be an interchange in the middle of the Jerusalem Forest with a circle and a new four-lane highway going up to Givat Shaul at the Revida Valley,” Paul Lenga, chairman of the forum of organizations for the Jerusalem Forest, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday afternoon. “In the middle of the two tunnels will be this enormous interchange that is going to be a disruption of what remains of the Jerusalem Forest.”

Not only would the new road cause severe environmental damage, it would also have significant ramifications on religious residents of “Har Nof and Givat Shaul because there will be cars in that area going under their houses on Shabbat,” according to Lenga.

Members of the umbrella group, who participated in the protest outside the Interior Ministry on Monday morning, include: Shomera for a Good Environment; Green Course; Guardians of the Forest; Ramot for the Environment; and the residents of Beit Hakerem, Yefe Nof, Har Nof, and Moshav Bet Zayit, Lenga said.

“They listened to our arguments and the chairman attempted to respond to some of the points that were raised – in my view he didn’t respond to them fully,” Lenga continued.

One such point, he said, included a suggestion that a professional transportation study be conducted on the area, which would also look at alternatives in more detail and freeze the current plan for the time being.

The chairman responded, however, that this was unnecessary because a study could be conducted later on during the statutory process, according to Lenga.

“But by then, it will be too late to make changes,” he said.

Lenga said that he would only be agreeable to constructing Road 16 “if it is proved beyond doubt – which it hasn’t been to date – that the road is necessary from a transportation point of view; and if there can be an alternative to the current scheme without an interchange at Revida.”

“For example, if the road is underground and without any interchange, then there wouldn’t be any damage to the Jerusalem Forest or the area around it,” he explained.

Green Movement co-Chairman Prof. Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University relayed disappointment after hearing about a visit to the forest on Monday morning made by Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, whom he said expressed “on the one hand lip-service for the importance of the Jerusalem Forest but [acknowledged] that there may be overriding transportation considerations.”

The city of Jerusalem, he added, has assumed “a pragmatic stance” on the issue.

“There will always be a logical technocratic rationalization justifying the devastation of open spaces in Israel.

That is the nature of living in a crowded country,” Tal told the Post on Monday evening.

“One would hope that the State of Israel and the city of Jerusalem could muster up even a teaspoon of vision and commitment to ensure that the green heritage of our nation’s capital will be passed on to future generations. But in the name of pragmatism, they are turning our capital into an asphalt jungle and selling off its most valuable natural assets.”

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