The Transportation Ministry’s intention to close a portion of Route 90 that is riddled with sinkholes could have severe ecological implications on wildlife in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority warned on Monday.
The closure, set to begin on Tuesday at 12 noon, is to affect a stretch of about 200 meters between the entrance to Nahal David and the Ein Gedi gas station, the ministry said on Monday evening.
With orders from Transportation Ministry national traffic controller Meir Chen, Netivei Israel-National Transport Infrastructure Company Ltd. workers began preparing for the intended closure, as well as the installation of a temporary alternative lane, already on Sunday.
Over the course of Tuesday, Netivei Israel employees will be preparing the temporary lane, in order to enable residents of the immediate area to continue to travel, the ministry said. The route of the temporary lane will pass through the agricultural fields of Kibbutz Ein Gedi, rather than within the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, the ministry added.
While the temporary driving lane – which is mostly made up of the existing, internal road of Kibbutz Ein Gedi – is technically situated on kibbutz property, it passes just meters from the nature reserve, according to David Greenbaum, the manager of the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.
“It’s part of the nature reserve – you can’t separate it,” Greenbaum told The Jerusalem Post on Monday night.
The story of the Route 90 sinkholes began two years ago, when Transportation Ministry and Netivei Israel officials approached INPA representatives about fixing the problematic road, according to Greenbaum.
They explained that fixing the road requires the construction of a temporary bypass road, which resulted in discussions about various alternatives, he explained.
Netivei Israel workers are supposed to begin constructing the 2 km. bypass this month, but its completion will take up to six or seven months, Greenbaum said.
“Then yesterday they found another sinkhole,” he continued.
The additional sinkhole is so problematic that it impedes safe travel on Route 90 in the area, yet the bypass road has not yet been built.
As a result, transportation officials determined that a temporary alternative lane for the immediate area is required, until the bypass road for the area is complete, Greenbaum explained.
“And the only road they found is the road that goes into the reserve,” he said.
Traffic on the temporary lane, where the speed limit will be 30 kph, will be limited to private cars of area residents, public transportation and visitors to Kibbutz Ein Gedi, the ministry assured. Heavier vehicles will be required to travel on alternate routes for the time being, it said.
In and around the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve lives the largest ibex population in the world, as well as other animals that are endangered, according to the INPA . By bringing traffic flows dayand- night onto the kibbutz’s internal roads, officials risk endangering both the animals and motorists that travel there, the authority said.
Despite the INPA ’s claims regarding ecological disruption, the Transportation Ministry stressed that the decisions regarding the road closure, the bypass and the temporary lane have been made in consultation with Netivei Israel, the Israel Police, the Tamar Regional Council and representatives of the INPA .
“Planning of the bypass route passed all the various statutory proceedings, including the consent of the INPA ,” a statement from the ministry said.
Acknowledging that the plans may, in fact, be legally sound, Greenbaum emphasized just how traumatic the change may be to the wildlife population in the area.
“Every time we need to go down to the reserve at night we see foxes, wolves, snakes and porcupines – and lots of animals,” he told the Post.
“We see animals on this road because they are used to the dark and quiet of this road.
But as of tomorrow night, it’s going to be a different world for them. There are going to be a lot of cars, going inside all night.”