State sues Jerusalem light rail builder

Legal action comes after years of repeated delays; company now wants project to begin running in 2011.

light rail construction 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
light rail construction 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
In a new legal twist to an increasingly bitter dispute, the state has filed a lawsuit against the international conglomerate that is carrying out construction of the city's light rail system over the repeated delays in the project, officials said over the weekend. The legal action, which will now go to arbitration, follows years of repeated delays and derailments in the city transportation project. The suit cites "systematic delays" by Citypass in the construction of the project, and asks the judges to ensure that a September 2010 deadline is met, and to allow the state to freeze the next payment of NIS 32 million due to the company until it fulfills its agreements. The September 2010 deadline was itself set after years of repeated delays. Last month, the builders had asked to push back the date of the project's completion to June 2011. "The behavior of the Citypass conglomerate has left us with no choice but to file this suit in order to ensure that Citypass completes the project as fast as possible and bring an end to the suffering of Jerusalem residents," said Shmuel Elgrably, a spokesman for the light rail project. The light rail builders, who have said the previous municipal leadership was responsible for the delays in the project, called the lawsuit "absurd," and a "baseless legal exercise." "The state and the previous municipal administration were responsible for repeated delays, and are now suing for the delays they created," Citypass said in response. The NIS 4.2 billion project, which is being jointly funded by the state and the Jerusalem Municipality, is the first of its kind in Israel. The long-awaited light rail, which was originally slated to be rolling by the end of 2008, stalled almost as soon as work began in 2005 due to a lack of manpower and construction problems, which included tracking incorrectly installed on the line running on Herzl Boulevard, that had to be ripped out and redone. When it finally gets off the ground, the revolutionary transportation project is meant to ease traffic congestion, and improve access to and reduce smog in the city center. The inaugural 14-kilometer line will run from the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev to Mount Herzl via the city center, with 23 stops along the way. But in the meantime, it has created traffic nightmares for Jerusalem motorists, and turned the city's main commercial street, Jaffa Road, into a virtually inaccessible construction site.