Tel Aviv Light Rail tows a hefty load

With some 200 businesses adjacent to the Red Line’s construction path, owners are bracing for considerable economic loss due to an onslaught of rerouting.

By
July 23, 2015 15:10
Ma’ariv Bridge

Ma’ariv Bridge. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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Light Rail project is set to roll into its first pivotal phase of work in early August with the construction of the central Red Line, residents and business owners in the bustling city are stricken with uncertainty and anxiety over plans for the massive undertaking.

After years of delays in planning and preparation, Tel Aviv is finally on track to build the stations for what is dubbed a “revolution” in Israel’s public transportation.

The Tel Aviv region will follow Jerusalem in housing Israel’s second rapid-transit, state-of-the-art light rail system.

The 24-kilometer-long Red Line is slated to become operational in 2021 and will consist of 34 stops, with 24 ground-level stations and 10 underground stations. It will run from Petah Tikva through Bnei Barak, Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Holon to Bat Yam.

The Red Line is seen as the backbone of the mass transit framework planned to consist of eight lines in total, aimed at connecting the Gush Dan region through a network of five light rail routes and three lines of bus-based mass transit systems (Bus Rapid Transit, BRT). The projected transit grid is also designed to integrate with existing public transportation infrastructure.

The Red Line is forecast to travel between stops at a frequency of three to six minutes, speedily transporting an estimated 70 million passengers annually.

The Tel Aviv Light Rail – with current budget estimates upward of NIS 14 billion – is said to be Israel’s largest-ever infrastructure venture. In central Tel Aviv, there are five underground stations planned, with locations long the thoroughfares on Arlosoroff Street, Shaul Hamelech Street, Yehudit Boulevard, Carlebach Street and Allenby Street.

Signs advertising the launch of the project, managed by the government firm Metropolitan Mass Transit System Ltd. (NTA) in conjunction with the Transportation Ministry and Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, dot the city’s roadways and walkways bearing the Hebrew slogan “Difficult now, easy (light) afterward.”

Despite the awaited benefits of this vast transportation conduit, residents and small-to-medium businesses in the vicinity of construction sites are anticipating the project’s immediate onset with marked frustration and a mixture of concern, annoyance and even outrage at the impediments and congestion expected to result from initial work on the Red Line.

Although the Tel Aviv area constantly deals with omnipresent construction work, with some 200 businesses adjacent to the Red Line’s construction path, owners are bracing for considerable economic loss due to an onslaught of rerouting and impeded entrance to various commercial and residential areas.

While various residents acknowledge that the end result will exponentially benefit the Gush Dan region by making it increasingly accessible and cutting travel times, others are dubious of the long-term efforts and have trouble envisioning the forthcoming perks of the Tel Aviv Light Rail.

Moshe Mizrahi, who owns the small, colorful Juicy Mix stand at the site of the future Carlebach station, says he does not know how his employees, let alone customers, will be able to reach his enterprise with widespread road closures slated in the area.

“I don’t know how I will arrive [to work] or even if I do get here, where I will park,” he tells Metro.

Mizrahi’s juice bar is situated in the environs of the work site at Ma’ariv Junction, which will see a cordoned-off entrance to the intersection from adjoining streets, including Yitzhak Sadeh, Carlebach, Begin and Lincoln. Excavators are prepared to demolish the traffic-laden exchange’s iconic Ma’ariv Bridge, named after the former site of The Jerusalem Post’s Hebrew sister publication. Traffic will also be reversed on two contiguous streets – Hata’asiya and Hamelacha.

“Cars won’t be able to get here, there won’t be transportation or public transportation; even pedestrians won’t be here,” Mizrahi predicts.

While he has ruled out closing shop or relocating his walk-up refreshment stand for the meantime, Mizrahi says that he, like many of his fellow business owners in the vicinity, is waiting to decide what action, if any, to take until after construction of the light rail commences.

“I don’t have anywhere to go. Where would I go, what would I do? It’s a big imposition on us,” he laments. “We don’t know what is going to happen. Only after it starts will we know what to do. Right now, there’s nothing to do. It might not be as bothersome or harmful as people are saying. Only time will tell.”

Without knowing exactly what to expect, Mizrahi reflects on the similar air of chagrin in Jerusalem before the city’s light rail system was constructed.

“I understand that in Jerusalem [the light rail] really caused harm to everyone. People there stayed down and out and weren’t able to get back up again,” he recalls.

However, he adds that while the Jerusalem light rail was built on a more concentrated path, the extensive nature of the Gush Dan network will affect a larger populace.

NTA, THE corporation that has been responsible for the planning and development of the expansive operation since the project was nationalized in 2010, highlights that there is a “fundamental difference” in the process of work execution in Tel Aviv compared to that of Jerusalem in 2002-2011.

“In Jerusalem, the whole light rail route was closed. Here, the majority of construction of the Red Line will be done underground without interruption. Vehicular movement on the surface above will continue to flow as usual,” a NTA spokesperson tells Metro. “The main obstacle that will require traffic changes is the digging of subterranean stations.”

After initial shafts are burrowed, a tunnel boring machine will excavate underground tunnels in which tracks will be laid. The distance between stations is approximately 1 km., and work on them will be completed using the “cut and cover” method of excavating a strip and covering it with a “deck” to allow transit above ground while building continues below.

As part of outreach efforts, NTA says it has embarked on a broad campaign to inform the public of the plans and implications of upcoming light rail proceedings.

“For months, dozens of our representatives have held hundreds of conferences and informational meetings to explain the changes that will occur in light of construction,” NTA states. “Each business owner has been appointed a personal representative to provide immediate logistical solutions.”

While the majority of businesses that spoke to Metro said that NTA had deployed representatives and flyers, and arranged explanation sessions, they note that the moves came a mere month before scheduled construction onset and complain that it is difficult to receive answers to remaining quandaries.

“We are very sensitive to the concerns of residents; however, at the same time, we believe that the beginning of construction of the light rail system should be welcomed,” NTA underlines, adding that upon the rail’s target completion in October 2021, it foresees the quality of life of residents in affected areas changing dramatically for the better.

NTA also stresses that it is taking certain considerations to tend to affected construction areas. For one, the company says that parking lots near impacted office buildings will remain open to private motorists.

As of early August, additional parking lots with shuttles to industry centers along work locations will be available free or for up to NIS 15, as detailed on NTA’s website. According to the firm, pedestrians will also be granted access in the sphere of construction, and the docking and loading of goods for businesses will be permitted.

In addition, NTA explains that it is installing acoustic shielding for apartment buildings on the work route.

The company’s website provides further information on changes in traffic arrangements, including an interactive map detailing the slated works and projected outcome at particular Red Line stops.

While the majority of those directly affected by construction in Tel Aviv are seeking answers, others have decided to relocate or are pondering steps to ensure the future of their livelihood. Still others are pursuing legal action.

Menashe Ozer, owner of the Olive restaurant at the Carlebach junction, is one of the leading forces behind a class-action suit on behalf of businesses against NTA, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality and the Transportation Ministry.

Thus far, the suit has garnered the signatures of some 40 businesses; Ozer says he hopes to enlist at least 100 signatories before the joint lawsuit’s envisioned submission date in early August. For the task, Ozer brought in the expertise of attorney Shachar Harari, who litigated a NIS 28 million suit in 2014 for Jerusalem businesses that wanted to claim damages against the administrators of the capital’s light rail network.

Ozer says it has been difficult over the past couple of months to get others on board, but now that signs are popping up announcing the imminence of work, people are comprehending the reality of the situation and calling him more often with interest in joining the lawsuit.

Ozer’s restaurant has been located at the site since 2006, and he is worried about the potential damage the eatery will incur as a result of the construction of the Carlebach station.

He says that although construction of the light rail in Tel Aviv is set to last for six years, he is worried that the time frame last more than 10 years as it did in Jerusalem.

Ozer explains that due to work on the light rail, many in nearby commercial centers are considering not extending their office leases, opting instead to relocate.

He is worried that the domino effect of losing regular clientele from neighboring businesses who patronize his restaurant at lunchtime will prove disastrous for his operations.

“Everyone is in kind of a state of depression. There is a cloud hanging over us in regard to the matter,” he says of his colleagues in the vicinity.

He asserts that he already sees the pending impact as serving a “death threat for businesses” and notes that the government has not offered any financial compensation or deductions on rent, utilities or taxes, including arnona (municipal tax).

“We still have to pay for maintenance and employee salaries. There are veteran employees with families whom we have to let go,” he relates regretfully. “Even though it’s a national project, the state shouldn’t just come and chop things up.”

TO THE south of the blueprinted Carlebach station, business owners around the slated Allenby stop site are also disconcerted.

The initial bulk of construction for the underground station – to be located between Allenby and Yehuda Halevy streets on the eastern and western parameters – will cause the latter street to close, with traffic redirected and reversed on Mikve Yisrael Street.

At the popular Mexican food restaurant Taqueria at the corner of Levontin and Mikve Yisrael adjacent to Yehuda Halevy, owner Danna Yarzin is concerned about noise and traffic barriers hindering the arrival of clientele.

“Most of our customers come on foot, but about 20 percent come by car, so if we lose 20% of business, that is a lot,” she remarks, adding that the lifespan of a restaurant in Tel Aviv rarely exceeds 10 years.

“In the long term, [the light rail] will make the city more enjoyable and accessible,” she maintains. “I’m not a city planner, but I think there are alternatives like more bike trails and electric buses,” she adds.

Skipping two stops northward from Allenby to the premises of the Yehudit station, residents in the Montefiore neighborhood – through which the café and tree-lined Yehudit Boulevard is a central fixture – are brainstorming on how to deal with the impact of the light rail.

On July 15, more than a dozen residents gathered for a neighborhood meeting and discussed ways to cooperate in approaching the municipality and NTA to find solutions to their problems related to construction.

One of the convening organizers, Guy Oren, says he has seen about 30 or 40 new buildings erected in the southeastern neighborhood in the four or five years that he has lived there. With access points already limited on Ben-Avigdor Street and more set to come, the residents are perturbed by the notion of seclusion.

“I’ve heard that a lot of businesses near the construction are moving to Ramat Gan,” says Oren.

Other residents and business managers at the meeting confirmed that they were unsure whether to terminate rental contracts and move shop. With all the people and infrastructure to manage and no official neighborhood representative, Oren and his colleagues are seeking answers that remain unclear as to how they can continue to live comfortably amid all the changes.

In light of questions and concerns, NTA suggests turning to their website, which provides updates on railway routes, current works under way, as well as pictures and simulations. The firm also operates an informational hotline where representatives can be reached by calling *4575.

Meanwhile, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality vows that it is doing everything in its power to assist with the light rail’s implementation. For example, the city proclaims that it is working on establishing sales events to help business owners operating in close proximity to work sites.

“All the municipalities in the Gush Dan region [Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Bat Yam, Bnei Brak, Petah Tikva and Ramat Gan] believe that it is important to look for ways to help businesses that will be directly affected by work on the light rail,” the municipality tells Metro. “When a serious government discussion is convened on the matter, the municipalities will act as permanent partners in finding urban solutions.”

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