PM scales back transportation reform

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plans for a comprehensive reform of the country’s transportation system have been scaled back substantially. Netanyahu held a joint press conference with Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz on Monday revealing a modified plan, with a budget cut by half following objections by the Finance Ministry.
While the original plan, created by Netanyahu’s adviser Uri Yogev, was budgeted at NIS 51 billion and scheduled to take place over 15 years, the plan Netanyahu presented yesterday had a budget of NIS 27 b. and was scheduled for 10 years, with a second phase scheduled to begin in 2020 completing the vision.
“I ask myself from time to time why Israelis can’t enjoy the same things citizens of other countries do. You go to countries as developed, and sometimes even less developed than ours, and you can move rapidly on roads and on rail networks.... In Israel you get stuck in traffic jams,” said Netanyahu. “It’s time to change that and turn Israel into a 21st century country with a modern network of highways and trains.”
The new plan, dubbed “Israel Routes,” proposes the construction of a railway track linking Karmiel to Haifa, an additional track from Haifa to Beit Shean and a track from Lod to Hadera. The first phase also includes the extension of Highway 6 to the north, reaching Rosh Pina, and to the south extending to the Negev Junction, south of Beersheba.
The vision behind the plan, as expressed by Netanyahu, is that the majority of Israel’s residents live within an hour’s travel from the center, with the rest living two hours away at most.
“Israel is one of the smallest countries in the world. There is no reason for it not to become one of the most developed and networked countries in the world, with an emphasis on an efficient and fast transportation network,” said Netanyahu.
The projects that were cut from the original plan and scheduled for phase two include a train track from Kiryat Shmona to Karmiel, a track to run parallel to the Trans-Israel highway, a train track to Eilat and additional highways for the north.
Katz said the plan was of the foremost economic and social importance, as it would connect the Negev and the Galilee to the country’s core.
He said the plan would lead to financial growth, reduce congestion and improve both safety and the environment.
Roughly half of the proposed projects will be funded directly by government companies and the other half of the funding will be in the form of public-private partnerships under the Build-Own-Transfer model.
The plan is scheduled to be voted on by the government on Wednesday.