View of the Jerusalem forest.
(photo credit: SHARON UDASIN)
For Dr. Elisheva Rigbi, who lives in the capital’s Beit Hakerem neighborhood, the Jerusalem Forest is a daily refuge in a city whose urban sprawl is ever growing.
“I go for a walk there every day,” said Rigbi, a member of the Forum of Organizations for the Jerusalem Forest. “It’s my backyard.”
Rigbi spoke with The Jerusalem Post during a tour organized by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund through the forest, a chunk of which the state intends to replace with a fourlane interchange. The junction would be part of the future Route 16, designed to connect Route 1 (the main highway to Tel Aviv) to the Menachem Begin Highway to ease traffic at the city’s main entrance.
The forum, which serves as the umbrella group for concerned residents and environmentalists, filed a petition against the plans to the High Court of Justice – which is set to discuss the issue on October 27.
Approved by the Interior Ministry’s National Infrastructure Committee in July 2011, the Route 16 plans involve the construction of two tunnels, the interchange and an access road.
Stretching from roughly Motza to the Har Nof neighborhood and from the Yefeh Nof neighborhood to Shaarei Tzedek Medical Center, the two tunnels – 1,500 and 1,350 meters long, respectively – would meet at an above-ground interchange near the Jerusalem Forest’s Revida Stream. An access road would connect the Givat Shaul industrial zone to the interchange in the valley below.
Describing the Jerusalem Forest as the “last meaningful green lung” in the capital, Rigbi warned that the interchange could bring about an ecological disaster. “It’s going to cut the forest into two or three and will butcher the ecological system,” she said.
In their petition, the forum members claim the approval process for the plan was illegal, as it neglected to include alternatives to the proposed project.
They also question the economic viability of the plan, which is estimated to cost at least NIS 1.5 billion, Rigbi explained.
Also, the establishment of additional roads for private vehicles contradicts the government’s declared intention to encourage use of public transportation, the petitioners argued.
In March 2013, the National Infrastructure Committee rejected all objections filed against the project, and the project received government approval in early 2014.
“We know there’s a necessity for this road, but there’s a way to do it differently,” said Prof. Alon Tal, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, who serves on KKLJNF’s executive board.
Recognizing the need to ease the traffic burden on the city’s main western entrance, Tal explained that KKL-JNF in principle is not opposed to the construction of Route 16. The organization, however, favors the construction of one continuous tunnel from Route 1 to the Menachem Begin Highway, without an above-ground interchange in the middle of the Jerusalem Forest, he said.
“You can’t pave your way out of gridlock,” Tal added.
Addressing the group on an outlook from Yefeh Nof, KKLJNF regional director Hanoch Tzoref stressed that the area of a stream is always quite an active area from an ecological perspective, with numerous plants and animals making their homes in the vicinity.
Tzoref said while KKL-JNF considers the construction of Route 16 essential, building the interchange “is a fundamental mistake.”
Rigbi said she is optimistic that the justice system will work in favor of the residents.
“We won’t give up, because it’s our life,” she said. “It’s our quality of life."