Controversy remains for costly J'lem bridge

NIS 2m. to be spent on 'inauguration' bash for structure that won't be used for at least one year.

bridge of strings night  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
bridge of strings night
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The construction of a grandiose new bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem may be completed, but the controversy over the project continues unabated. First it was repeated delays in construction. Then it was the project's skyrocketing budget. Finally there were accusations over structural flaws and cracks. Just days before the bridge's lavish NIS 2 million inauguration bash Wednesday night - which will be unveiled in an "unprecedented" pyrotechnics show that will double as the grand finale of a year-long schedule of events commemorating the city's reunification 40 years ago - the criticism over the event, and the bridge continues. Last week, Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat urged President Shimon Peres to boycott the lavish inauguration of the bridge due to its "wasteful" expenditure of public funds. "It would have been appropriate had the NIS 2m. in public funds which are being spent on the celebrations of the bridge's inauguration been invested in other burning and more pressing needs in the city such as education, children's meals, city sanitation, job projects, and housing for young couples," Barkat wrote Peres. "As civil servants, we would be sinning in both our duties and our moral obligations if we agreed to take part in such a waste of public funds which has no justification and logic," Barkat wrote. Peres had been originally slated to attend the gala event, although it appeared Sunday that he may not be attending, city officials said. The president's spokeswoman Ayelet Frish said that she could not immediately comment on his schedule. The festive inauguration of the bridge, which will include performances by some of Israel's top singers including Dudu Fischer and David D'or, is largely being paid for out of the budget earmarked for the 40th anniversary celebrations, city officials said. City documents show that NIS 1.7m. of the NIS 2m. bill will come from that budget, while the remaining NIS 300,000 will be paid for by the Moriah Construction Company, a sister-company of the Jerusalem Municipality. By comparison, the amount in state and city funding that is being spent solely on the one-night festive inauguration of the bridge is nearly half the NIS 5m. that the Municipality budgeted for culture over all of last year. The municipality declined to comment on the cost of the event. Moriah spokesman Yehoshua Mor Yossef did not return calls for comment on Sunday. Despite the inauguration of the bridge, it will remain unused for at least another year and perhaps as long as two years because of repeated delays in construction of Jerusalem's light rail system. Meanwhile, in separate criticism on the same event, a religious lawmaker on Sunday called for the cancellation of the inauguration ceremony after it emerged that Arab construction workers employed by the municipality's sister-company carried out work for the event over Shabbat. MK Zevulun Orlev of the National Religious Party urged Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski to nix the event due to the desecration of Shabbat, Orlev's spokesman said. The issue, which triggered heated haredi condemnation and clearly embarrassed Lupolianski, brought a lengthy city response and the news that the sub-contractor who employed the workers had been immediately fired on the mayor's orders. The city said in the written response that "The municipality was stunned to discover this week that a sub-contractor from east Jerusalem which provided services to the Moriah Company employed several workers who carried out surfacing work at the bridge's plaza before the end of Shabbat. "An investigation of the incident revealed that the contractor who employed Arab workers did not ensure that the workers arrived on the site according to instruction only after the end of Shabbat, something which led the workers to start their work before the end of Shabbat in violation of the agreement that they reached with the Moriah Company," the city said. The company said they hoped that the dismissal would serve as an unequivocal lesson for this "most serious" incident, and ensure that it not be repeated again in the future, the city statement continued. The state of the art bridge, dubbed 'the Bridge of Strings', on which the light rail system will run was built at the central junction at the entrance to the city connecting Jaffa Road and Herzl Boulevard. Designed by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the structure cost NIS 246m. to build, more than threefold its original budget, according to a city comptroller report. The report stated that had its actual cost been known, the project was unlikely to have ever been approved.