Barkat wants overhaul of capital's light rail project

J'lem mayoral candidate: Remaining seven planned rail lines should be replaced by more flexible bus lines.

October 27, 2008 20:12
3 minute read.
Barkat wants overhaul of capital's light rail project

barkat 298.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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If Jerusalem mayoral candidate Nir Barkat is elected, he said he would "reopen all contracts" for the city's long-delayed and overspent light rail project and consider an overhaul of the plans. One option, he said could include covering the route and existing rails with asphalt so that fast buses - possibly electric-powered ones - could be integrated with existing transportation. The remaining seven planned rail lines should be replaced by more flexible bus lines, Barkat said. Barkat discussed the rail project initiated by former Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert and built under the supervision of Mayor Uri Lupolianski, at a standing-room-only election rally attended by hundreds in the Ahuzat Beit Hakerem residence for retirees on Sunday night. The candidate, who called the badly planned and executed line "rakevet hatakala" (blight rail) instead of by its official name, rakevet hakala (light rail), said the planning process was aimed entirely at making the railway profitable by discouraging vehicle traffic in the city center and cancelling bus lines, except for those that would encourage passengers to use the railway. The 49-year-old philanthropist and former computer entrepreneur - who has been a member of the Jerusalem Will Succeed opposition party in the city council for five years and has initiated numerous projects to promote improved education, clean streets and community action - said that as mayor, he intended to make housing more affordable, promote job creation and make the city more attractive. Barkat said there is potential for an increase in the annual number of foreign tourists to Jerusalem from the current one or two million to 10 million over the next decade by developing historical, religious and cultural sites and establishing a coordinated network of transportation. "This number will create 150,000 more workplaces in the city," he maintained. The candidate called for legislation that would fine foreigners who own Jerusalem apartments left vacant most of the year, as these absentee landlords help create housing shortages that raise prices. He also suggested that private enterprise be encouraged in order to increase the supply of reasonably priced housing for young couples. Barkat charged the Lupolianski administration with "extremely poor management and lack of transparency." The municipal transportation committee, he said, "hasn't met even once in five years." Barkat came out squarely against the Safdie Plan for building housing in the green Jerusalem Corridor area west of the capital because it would hurt the environment and promote haredi control over non-haredi neighborhoods instead of encouraging the building of more apartments for everyone in low-density neighborhoods. This comes a few days after Barkat announced that he supported the building of a new neighborhood of 2,000 apartments for young people between the Anata and the French Hill neighborhood. His support for the plan was greeted by criticism from a handful of leftwingers in the crowd who said they decided not to vote for him because of this. But Barkat said the land for the proposed neighborhood was all Jewish-owned, or under the aegis of the Israel Lands Authority, and also that Palestinian residents of Anata had voiced their support for the idea because "they believe it will improve their own infrastructure and businesses." Participants at the rally stressed that the main focus of the election was not political issues but whether "Jerusalem will become another Bnei Brak and remain the poorest city in the country" or be "controlled by the Zionists and helped to prosper." Barkat said his chief opponent, MK Meir Porush, intended to work only for the benefit of haredi residents at the expense of other Jerusalemites. Barkat, who has visited medical and life sciences institutions around the city, said that as mayor he would promote stem cell research, computer-guided surgery research and hi-tech; three areas in which Jerusalem has leading world experts. While he lost the previous mayoral election by fewer than 20,000 votes "because so many in the Zionist sectors - secular and modern Orthodox - failed to vote," Barkat said he hoped everyone would go out to vote this time and not be apathetic, as they had the power to bring about change for the better.

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