A grand entrance... to where?

The dedication of the Bridge of Strings, to be held today, raises awkward questions.

bridge of strings 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy of Tiram Sasson)
bridge of strings 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy of Tiram Sasson)
Today, at 8 p.m., the Bridge of Strings, popularly known as the Calatrava Bridge, will be inaugurated at a dazzling celebration complete with performances by David De'or, Dudu Fisher, the Jerusalem Dance Troupe and hundreds of dancers - at a cost of NIS 2 million. But the promised razzle-dazzle and pyrotechnics dedication raises awkward questions. In the past week workers have been racing to complete the bridge: They've removed the yellow support pillars that have propped up the 2,600-ton bridge, converted the construction site below into a public piazza paved with mosaic patterns of Jerusalem stone and completed the glass pedestrian walkway. But two critical elements remain missing: the tracks for the light rail and the tram cars. Given that the light rail is not scheduled to become operational until October 2010, why dedicate it now? Why is the project nearly five years behind schedule? And why has the cost to the taxpayer ballooned from NIS 500 million to NIS 1.2 billion? Jerusalem Municipality deputy spokeswoman Tal Marom-Malovec explained, "This isn't about the dedication of the Bridge of Strings but rather a ceremony marking the completion of work on a place which isn't just a bridge but a monument leading to Jerusalem." Light rail project spokesman Shmuel Elgrabli said: "It's been a long day of study. We're in a good position [now] after a delay of a year-and-a-half." From his perspective, the landmark bridge built by the municipality's Moriah Company is no longer his headache. In August, Moriah will turn over the completed structure to the international consortium CityPass, which will lay the tracks, install the electricity and operate the light rail, explained Elgrabli. As for the sleek, bullet-proof tram cars, five of the 46 have already arrived in Israel, Elgrabli noted, including two stored at the Pisgat Ze'ev depot. The cars are arriving from their French manufacturer at the rate of two per month, he added. Elgrabli is confident the endless delays are finally behind him, and is now turning to a feasibility study of Jerusalem's second light transit line. Its location will depend on financial considerations, Elgrabli said. Just as the 13.8-km. Red Line was laid out to attract a maximum number of both Jewish and Palestinian riders, the route of the future second line will be determined by where it will garner the greatest ridership, he explained. In February CityPass notified the Finance and Transportation ministries that it had agreed to accept the NIS 100m. in compensation for lost revenue caused by the government's delays in building the tram line. The deal also includes NIS 50m. for engineering and design upgrades requested by the government, said Elgrabli. A last-minute dispute over NIS 23m. in VAT led to yet another month's setback. The initial phase of the long-delayed light rail transit system has undergone countless revisions over the last decade of planning and fitful construction. Initially slated to begin operating in March 2006, it was delayed until January 2009, and is now set to begin operations in 28 months. Elgrabli noted that 9 km. of tracks are either under construction or have been completed. Work is now proceeding along Jaffa Road and Rehov Hatzanhanim beside the Old City, he added. Most of Jaffa Road will be shared by pedestrians and the trams, transforming the nature of central Jerusalem, he said. The recent 61st State Comptroller's Report lambasted the government's conduct in the Jerusalem light rail project. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss found that the government incorrectly estimated the public sector's investment in the NIS 3.4 billion project.