Traffic chaos feared as key Jerusalem route set to close

"There is already terrible traffic across the city, and now there'll be even more," Yasser Tabiya, a Jerusalem-based taxi driver said.

July 11, 2019 02:58
3 minute read.
Traffic chaos feared as key Jerusalem route set to close

Traffic chaos feared as key Jerusalem route set to close. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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Patience, compassion and understanding. These are the three attributes requested by Jerusalem authorities ahead of the three-year closure of one of the city’s primary thoroughfares on Sunday. Shazar Boulevard, a major road entering Jerusalem from Route 1, is expected to be blocked for all private vehicles from the Chords Bridge to Nordau Junction until 2022.

The closure is part of the second stage of The Jerusalem Gateway Project, an ambitious plan to turn the city entrance into one of the country’s leading business hubs. Once completed, the public transportation hub and 29.5-hectare (73-acre) business quarter – home to 24 high-rise office buildings and 2,000 hotel rooms – is forecast to create 60,000 new jobs in the city.

Until then, however, the project promises traffic chaos, bringing back painful memories of the repeatedly-delayed construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail, which has proved greatly successful since completion.

“There is already terrible traffic across the city and now there’ll be even more,” said Jerusalem-based taxi driver Yasser Tabiya as he waited for passengers outside the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Shazar Boulevard. “The road will be closed except for public transportation, but we still don’t know about taxis. In any case, people won’t take taxis because they’ll be sitting in traffic and just watching the meter rise.”

Since 2015, tunneling and construction work has been taking place underneath the developing business quarter to build a tunnel for private cars and a 1,300-space park-and-ride facility. Jerusalem authorities say that construction work now needs to continue above ground in order to complete the project.

Most traffic entering the city will be redirected to Yitzhak Rabin Boulevard, which has been widened ahead of the closure. Public transportation will continue along Shazar Boulevard as usual, unaffected by the construction work.

Yosef Shmueli, manager of central Jerusalem electric bicycle store Be-Ofen, said existing parking shortages in the area have led to a lack of accessibility for customers, suppliers and employees. The parking shortage is likely to be exacerbated by the road closure.

Traffic chaos feared as key Jerusalem route set to close (Credit:  MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

“The construction of the light rail and fast-speed railway route to Tel Aviv is great, but has led to traffic jams and accessibility problems,” said Shmueli. “I can already feel the decrease in income and it could possibly lead to closure. On the other hand, the increased traffic jams might mean that people opt to purchase bicycles instead. Only time will tell.”

Jerusalem resident Omer Drori said that despite the imminent road closure, she finds it “bizarre” that she is still unaware of alternative travel routes and arrangements.

“Ultimately, if we have a great entrance to Jerusalem in a few years, then all this will be worthwhile,” said Drori. “As we all know, it probably won’t take three years to complete the work. The question is whether it takes four or five years – or even a decade.”

Local authorities have advised motorists entering Jerusalem to drive via Route 443 or Route 1 via the Arazim Tunnel. Those exiting the city should travel via Route 443 or Begin Boulevard to the tunnel. Using public transportation and checking transportation apps such as Waze, Moovit and GoogleMaps is recommended where possible.

Yoel Even – acting CEO at Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation, the company responsible for the Jerusalem Gateway Project – said that: “We are building something very large at this new business quarter, which is certainly worth making an effort for.”

But he cautioned that: “We do not recommend coming to the city center when unnecessary, and motorists should travel on alternative routes if possible. If that doesn’t occur and everyone travels as they do today, there will be significantly heavier traffic.”

Many lessons were learned by authorities, Even said, since the construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail. One key difference involves placing too much responsibility in the hands of a private contractor rather than a municipal subsidiary.

“As a municipal company, our ability to be close to and communicate with the public is much greater,” said Even. “Moriah has great capabilities, and we have already shortened the estimated completion time for this project by eight months.”

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