Cabinet approves state takeover of TA light rail project

Vote comes after collapse of agreement with company that planned to build it; ministers vow rail will be running by 2017.

By RON FRIEDMAN
December 13, 2010 04:55
3 minute read.
Artist rendition of Tel Aviv’s future light rail.

tel aviv light rail_311. (photo credit: (Neta-Metropolitan Mass Transit System))

 
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The cabinet on Sunday voted unanimously in favor of the government taking over the construction of the Tel Aviv light rail project following the collapse of the state’s agreement with the private company that planned to build and operate it.

In a press conference in Jerusalem, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz pledged their personal and ministerial commitment to the project and vowed to have it up and running by 2017.

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“This is the most important decision that has been made on the issue of public transportation in the history of the state,” said Katz. “Once complete the subway will serve between 100 million-150 million passengers a year, more than any other public transportation provider in the country.”

Katz said that the light rail line, which will stretch from Petah Tikva to Bat Yam, will reduce traffic accidents, increase mobility and reduce air pollution in the Tel Aviv metropolitan region.

Katz said that the responsibility over the project will be handed over to the government owned company Metropolitan Mass Transit System and that the government would work at strengthening it and staffing it with the best possible personnel in the months to come.

“The finance minister and myself will personally make sure that the project will get on track irreversibly so as to ensure it will be completed. As we know, that is the only way to do things here in Israel,” said Katz.

Steinitz also described the occasion as “historic,” and pledged that in seven years the tram would indeed ride the tracks.

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“The light rail will be built with treasury funds and overseen by the government and the ministers in charge to ensure that it is done properly,” said Steinitz. “However we have no intention of giving up on the idea of privatepublic partnerships. Even though this partnership fell through, perhaps because of the size and complexity of the specific project, we have plenty of examples of successful BOT projects like the Carmel tunnels, Highway 6 and the desalination plant in Ashdod.”

Steinitz added that while the project as a whole would be government run and funded, there would be plenty of private involvement as subcontractors, creating jobs and incomes to the private sector.

The cost of the Red Line of the Tel Aviv light rail project, which spans 23 kilometers (half of it underground), is estimated at NIS 11 billion.

Steinitz said that he knew that the construction phase of the project would be “no picnic,” and that many residents would suffer from noise and traffic disturbances, but that in the end it would be worth the nuisance and effort.

Steinitz also said that his ministry was aware that it might take years for the project to pay for itself and promised that the use of the tram would remain affordable.

Katz said it was still unclear whether the construction of the green and purple lines of the light rail network, scheduled for construction over the next decade would be paid for by private or public funds.

Environmental group The Green Course, which advocates for improved nationwide public transportation, said the decision on the light rail was a sign of progress, but called on the government to take care of the existing – and in their eyes, severely lacking – public transportation infrastructure. On Sunday, Green Course activists boarded buses from Kiryat Shmona to Beersheba, carrying signs calling on the government to fix the bus system and promote public transportation plans across the country.

“The residents of Israel suffer from severe transportation problems. The reason for that is that the government prefers the prefers the use of private vehicles and neglects public transportation. We all pay for it in poor air quality, time wasted in traffic jams, traffic accidents, auto and fuel expenses, growing social gaps and shrinking open spaces,” read a statement from the group.

“While plans for roads and interchanges are given priority and quickly approved, plans for developing public transportation are delayed for years, forcing us to choose riding in private vehicles.”

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