Jerusalem-Chelm-TA

Transportation Ministry planners concocted a scheme whereby a full lane of traffic has been designated as a toll lane, with fluctuating rates that are confusing in themselves.

By
January 13, 2011 02:17
3 minute read.
Traffic jam on Ayalon Highway.

Traffic jam on Ayalon 311 . (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

 
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With exasperating consistency, whenever the denizens of Yiddish folklore’s mythic hamlet of Chelm brainstormed to find a solution to a pressing problem, they ended up making a bad situation remarkably worse.

Their tradition apparently survives in our Transportation Ministry. Significantly narrowing the already chronically congested stretch of Route 1 between Ben-Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Freeway (at the Kibbutz Galuyot Interchange) is a glaring new case in point.

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The ministry planners concocted a scheme, in force for a week now, whereby a full lane of traffic has been designated as a toll lane, with fluctuating rates that are confusing in themselves – rising from the minimum of NIS 6 to a whopping NIS 75 at the height of the heaviest rush hours (when an express lane is actually needed).

Those rates render the toll lane unaffordable for regular use by average rush-hour commuters. And so, these commuters must now squeeze into an appreciably narrowed highway.

Near the Shapirim Interchange, Route 1’s five lanes are reduced to four non-toll lanes. Further down the road to Tel Aviv only three lanes are left, and at the entrance to the city the entire accumulation of non-toll traffic is packed into a mere two lanes.

The resultant bottleneck was not hard to predict. It was inevitable.

As is the fact that while the bulk of traffic is compressed into fewer lanes, the costly toll lanes are conspicuously underused. In off-hours, the toll lanes are almost empty.

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NOT ONLY has the daily torment of ordinary drivers been exacerbated, but this has also been done at their expense in another way as well. They are being deprived of the use of part of a thoroughfare that is legally theirs.

Toll roads may make sense in cases where private entrepreneurs are encouraged to construct highways and then recoup their investments via tolls – or even when the state constructs a new thoroughfare.

But Route 1 was not privately financed. It was constructed long ago on public land, which belongs to all of us, from taxes paid by all of us. Route 1 is public property, legally and unequivocally. To deny any of us access to any part of it is to deny us access to what is ours.

We are being double-taxed. We paid for this highway’s initial construction and periodical expansions. We are now required to pay more to travel on sections of road for which we had already forked out.

This is spelled out clearly in the law. Most drivers may be unaware of it, but the Speed Lanes Act, as amended in 2005, stipulates that the prior approval of the Knesset Economics Committee is mandated before an existing traffic lane can be turned into an express lane or toll lane.

This was further underscored in June 2008 by then-Economics Committee chairman Gilad Erdan, who noted that the transportation minister may designate express lanes only in newly constructed highways. This cannot be done regarding a lane on an older road already in use without the approval of the Knesset Economics Committee.

Yet the Knesset committee did not vote on the new Route 1 arrangements.

The Transportation Ministry’s reaction is facile and disingenuous: the number of lanes on Route 1 is unchanged. Physically that is so, but not functionally; there are indeed the same number of lanes, but one of them is no longer available for the unrestricted use of the public that paid for it.

The exacerbated bumper-to-bumper crawl at the entrance to Tel Aviv this week dramatically attests to the dismal, predictable outcome of a convoluted, expensive and improperly authorized scheme.

THE TOLL LANE’S key redeeming feature is that use is free for public transport vehicles and for vehicles with at least three (or four; it fluctuates) passengers. That, of course, should have been its sole purpose – in the manner of similarly designated lanes on highways in the US and elsewhere.

But that would have done nothing for the private company that runs it.

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