In an effort to reduce traffic on one of Israel's busiest roads, the Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee on Wednesday began approving regulations for the operation of a toll lane that will stretch from Ben-Gurion International Airport to the entrance to Tel Aviv. But while construction is already underway, many things are still uncertain - like just how much it will cost to drive on it.
The 12-kilometer rapid traffic lane is meant to operate as a public transport lane with the remaining capacity open to drivers willing to pay a toll. Under the terms of the contract, the operating company, Shafir Nativ Mahir, must guarantee that the minimum speed of traffic be no less than 70 kph. An average trip should take roughly 11 minutes.
The route, which starts near the Ben Gurion interchange and concludes at the Kibbutz Galuyot interchange, where it meets the Ayalon freeway, is one of the most congested sections of the country, especially during morning rush hour. According to Transportation Ministry figures, more than 100,000 vehicles drive along this route every day.
The project is being constructed under a Build Operate Transfer model whereby the operator will have the license to exact fees for 20 years before transferring it to the state. The project is estimated to cost NIS 480 million and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2010.
The state will receive NIS 182 million in exchange for granting the license.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said that the route was intended to increase the use of public transportation and reduce private vehicle traffic within the Tel Aviv Metropolitan area. The lane will be free for buses, sherut taxis and vehicles carrying four or more passengers.
Drivers will also be able to park their vehicles at a free park-and-go facility, constructed especially for the purpose near the Shafirim interchange, and ride a free shuttle that will take them to the Kirya district of Tel Aviv or the Diamond Exchange district of Ramat Gan.
While the project has been in the works since the state first issued a tender for an operating company in August 2006, there are still issues that have to be resolved. Chief among them is the price Shafir will be able to charge drivers using the toll lane.
According to Katz, payment for driving on the route will be based on a fluctuating fee depending on the levels of traffic - the more traffic, the higher the fee. While ministry officials say that the minimum toll for traveling on the route would be NIS 5, the maximum price is still unclear. In any case, the drivers will only know the price of the toll shortly before deciding to use it. According to the plans, a modifiable electronic sign 1.25 km before the onramp will display the price drivers will be charged depending on the levels of traffic.
Another issue that has not yet been addressed is what will happen if the operator can't meet the 70 kph. target.
Other issues that were raised in the committee were things like how to ensure that traffic exiting the toll route would integrate smoothly into the regular road and what would be done about the shuttles returning to the park-and-go facility. Since the toll route only works in one direction, commuters would have to suffer the outgoing traffic like everybody else.
On Monday, committee chairman MK Ophir Akunis and Katz agreed to allow motorcyclists and people with disabilities to also use the rapid lane free of charge. The agreement was reached despite transportation ministry officials' objections. They fear the move will encourage people to display fake handicapped permits to take advantage of the discount.
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