Watchdog blasts Jerusalem light rail

Construction costs of elaborate bridge at entrance to city jump to a quarter of a billion shekels.

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 that will be part of the city's long-planned light rail system is unlikely ever to have been approved had its actual costs been known at the time, a city comptroller report released this weekend found. The annual 2006-2007 report by city comptroller Shulamit Rubin, reveals that the construction of the bridge is costing more than three times its original budget, while the building project itself is running about four years behind schedule. The total cost of the bridge has jumped more than threefold from its original budget of NIS 71 million in 2001 to NIS 246 million at the end of 2006, the report finds. "Had the Finance Ministry, Transportation Ministry and Jerusalem Municipality known in 2001 the steep price and the unstoppable additions which were needed to build the bridge up until now, it is doubtful if the project would have been approved in its current format," the report finds. The state of the art bridge, dubbed 'the Bridge of Strings,' on which the light rail system will run is being built at the central junction at the entrance to the city connecting Jaffa Road and Herzl Boulevard. The bridge, which was designed by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, will be built on concrete supports covered in Jerusalem stone, above which will be a hanging steel and glass structure. The comptroller's report finds that the architect and his team received NIS 10 million for their work, nearly 40 percent higher than the originally agreed upon price. The report also cites suspicions of a conflict of interest in the selection of the architect who previously worked with the head of planning supervision of the project as partners in previous international ventures such as the Olympic Park in Athens. The city watchdog notes that the construction project - like the light rail system itself - is running nearly four years behind schedule, although the delay has had no detrimental effect on the city due to the postponement in the inauguration of the light rail system. The bridge, which will connect the light rail system's first city route from Jaffa Road to Herzl Boulevard in both directions, is expected to become a major Jerusalem landmark when it is completed. Along its track, a protected pedestrian walkway will be constructed which will offer visitors and commuters a panoramic view of the city. A Jerusalem Municipal spokesman referred all queries on the issue to the city's Moriah Construction company, the sister-company of the Jerusalem Municipality. Moriah spokesman Yehoshua Mur-Yossef said that the budget of the bridge had only increased by 10 percent - from NIS 220 million to NIS 246 million, an increase which he said was "reasonable" for such an unprecedented project. He added that the construction of the bridge was on the same general schedule as the delayed light-rail system.