The National Planning and Building Commission hasrejected a petition filed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority andother environmental organizations asking to replace a bridge plannedfor the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed train line with a tunnel.
The environmental organizations claim the144-meter bridge will cause irreparable damage to the local ecosystemof the Yitla Gorge, in the Jerusalem Hills National Park, near Nataf.They say a tunnel would have little or no harmful effect.
A statement issued by the commission said the replacement routeoffered by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority would add two years tothe project. It said it had been convinced that with alterations madeto the structure and design of the bridge, the natural environmentwould be protected.
"There is no dispute that the connection of Jerusalem to thecoast with a high-speed train line is a project of huge nationalimportance," the statement said. "There is also no dispute that theapproved plan is the product of serious deliberations, which includedall the relevant parties and where all alternatives were considered.
"In light of this, and despite the environmentaldamage to the Yitla Gorge, the National Commission decided not tore-examine the approved route, but to change the plan in order toreduce harm to the river."
In response, the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel(SPNI) said: "The members of the National Planning and BuildingCommission went against the public when they chose the worst optionfrom an economic, engineering and environmental perspective."
According to SPNI, more than 13,000 people signeda petition requesting a tunnel instead of a bridge. Independentexaminers who had studied both options determined that the tunnel wouldnot delay the project or increase the price of the line, SPNI said.
"How sad that while in the rest of the world, decisionsregarding new infrastructures are made while taking into considerationthe impact on nature and the environment, and the options that arechosen are those that do the least amount of damage, if any, in Israel,these considerations are still pushed to the sidelines and ignored bydecision makers, despite public support," SPNI's Dov Greenblatt said.
"We hope the publicly elected members of government will showgreater social accountability and instruct Israel Railways to choosethe tunnel over the bridge," he said.
The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed train line was born in 2001out of a desire to reduce traffic on the roads and offer a necessarypublic service for millions of passengers. The line was supposed to bepart of a railroad master plan, which was to eventually network theentire country.
The overall plan was budgeted at NIS 20 billion and scheduledto be completed in 2008. Over the years, as the complexity of theventure - which includes extensive tunneling and bridges over difficultterrain - was revealed, the budget ballooned to NIS 29b. and theestimated completion date was pushed back to 2015. So far only half ofthe line, from Tel Aviv to Anava, has been completed.
The 2008 State Comptroller's Report listed a long series ofblunders and evidence of mismanagement on the project. Israel Railwaysofficials still don't know the final costs.