New, fast toll road into Tel Aviv opens

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz raising speed limits on select highways, despite critics’ furious objections.

By RON FRIEDMAN
January 7, 2011 05:03
A traffic jam.

311_traffic jam. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Starting Thursday, drivers on Highway 2 between Haifa and Tel Aviv and Highway 4 between Ashdod and Rishon Letzion can let their foot rest slightly heavier on the accelerator pedal.

Following a decision by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, the speed limit on those and other inter-city roads across the country will increase from 90 kilometers per hour to 100 kph, and in some cases from 100 to 110 kph.

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On several inner-city roads, the speed limit will be decreased by 10-20 kph, depending on the conditions of the roads.

The changes will all take place over the next few weeks and will be apparent by new road signs indicating the new speed limits, the first of which were replaced on Thursday. Katz also instructed the traffic police to begin enforcing speed limits allowing for a 10-percent margin, so, for practical purposes, the new speed limit is actually 120 kph.

The move was met with harsh criticism among some road safety experts, who claimed that raising speed limits was a surefire recipe for more road deaths.

“The decision is reckless, shocking and dangerous.

Everywhere, speed kills, and more speed kills more. A 10% rise in speeds of impact results in a 45% rise in fatality among occupants and pedestrians. Raised speed limits themselves induce higher speeds, and produce speed addiction and speed spillover to other roads,” wrote Prof. Eliyahu Richter from the School of Public Health at the Hebrew University, in an open letter cosigned by several other specialists that was sent to cabinet ministers and the press. “If Katz fails to cancel his decision, we call upon the government to fire Katz for an error of commission which we consider to be the equivalent of administrative manslaughter.”

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Katz justified the decision to increase speed limits by referring to experts of his own within the ministry.

“A panel of 30 experts unanimously decided on the issue of re-adjusting speed limits. In some places, it can be increased; in some places, it must be decreased. I examined the material, consulted with the experts and in the end decided to adopt the recommendations of the panel. You can’t be both in favor and against an issue; you have to make decisions and when you do, people are inevitably going to criticize it,” Katz said.

“The reality is that today people already drive over the speed limit, causing a dissonance that leads to other problems. I say that in places where the experts, including the traffic commissioner and the Israel National Road Company decided that the road is physically capable of ensuring safe travel at higher speeds, we should let it go ahead. I think that it even contributes to road safety because it allows us to focus enforcement efforts at the truly dangerous practices that endanger lives.”

Katz was speaking at a conference marking the end-ofyear activities on the Transportation Ministry’s Night Buses project. The project, which in 2010 completed its sixth year, saw substantial expansion, with routes now operating in 33 cities. The Night Buses project provides late night bus services between the participating cities and the major entertainment districts in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem.

According to Dror Ganon, deputy head of the Public Transportation Department in the Transportation Ministry and the driving force behind the project, use of the night buses has expanded every year since the project’s launch with new municipalities constantly asking to be in included.

According to Ganon, 600,000 night bus tickets were sold in 2010, ensuring safe travel of tens of thousands of people, particularly youth, across the country.

The night buses operate between midnight and 4 a.m., Sunday to Thursday and on Saturday night during the school vacations and on Thursday and Saturday nights throughout the year.

“We have brought the night to life. Until recently, most of the youth depended on taxis, which are expensive, or hitchhiking, which is dangerous, when they wanted to go out at night. Today young people know that there is a simple and affordable solution and their parents can rest easier knowing that their children have a safe way to get home. The night buses also reduce the hazards of drunk driving, and reduce road traffic and parking troubles in the cities,” Ganon said.

When asked about the possible drawback in the fact that the buses don’t operate on Friday nights, which is the busiest night for people going out and therefore the time when most drunk driving accidents take place, Ganon said that the decision to not operate buses during the Sabbath was based on a status quo agreement reached between the government and the religious parties 30 years ago.

Responding to the same question, Katz said, “The transportation principles in the State of Israel determine that there is no public transportation activity during Shabbat aside from in Haifa.

Those are the principles and we didn’t alter them for the night buses.”

Earlier Thursday morning Katz attended the ceremonial opening of the new toll route at the entrance to Tel Aviv. The ceremony – attended by Katz, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other dignitaries – took place a day before the road’s official opening on Friday.

During the ceremony, Netanyahu said that the new route would save people precious time, allowing them to enter the city rapidly instead of waiting in traffic jams.

“There is one thing that can never be returned and that is time. If a person spends an hour a day in traffic jams, it translates to a year or two throughout a lifetime. Life is too short to sacrifice such a period of time. Our goal is to transform a slow and gridlocked country into a small and fast country,” Netanyahu said.

The new toll route stretches for 13 km on Highway 1, from Ben-Gurion Airport to the Kibbutz Galuyot interchange at the entrance to Tel Aviv.

The new lane will enable public transportation vehicles, carpoolers, vehicles with handicap certification and drivers who are willing to pay a fluctuating toll to bypass the near-constant traffic jams at the entrance to the city.

Users of the lane will also have access to a “Park n’ Go” facility situated next to the Shafirim interchange, halfway into the route, where they will be able to park their vehicles and be provided with free shuttle service into Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan.

The cost of travel on the new lane will fluctuate depending on the volume of traffic at any given time. The minimum price to use the lane will be NIS 7, with the operating company estimating that the maximum price, during morning rush hour will be NIS 25. The real-time price for private vehicle use will be posted on electronic message boards at the entrance to the lane. The project’s operating company, Shafir Engineering, guarantees travel speeds that will not drop below 70 kph.

Katz said that the government planned to invest upwards of NIS 100 billion in the next five to seven years in a range of infrastructure and transportation projects.

He also addressed the issue of shutting down train traffic in the south due to construction works, explaining that in order to have improved services down the line, train users would have to put up with a period of reduced services at the present.

Katz said that his staff had put together a plan that would ensure that the trains would be replaced by bus services during the period of the construction works.

The transportation minister also said he was encouraging Israel Railways to complete with as quickly as possible the investigation into last week’s fire aboard a passenger train so that train services could return to normal as soon as possible. Israel Railways had suspended all use of the model IC3 train carriages, which was the model harmed in the fire, pending the completion of an internal investigation as to its cause. The suspension decreased nationwide train traffic by 20%.


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