Hanging by a thread

The final piece of the mast of the Bridge of Strings went up this week, but the end of the light rail project is nowhere in sight.

bridge of strings night  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
bridge of strings night
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The final section of the 118-meter-high concrete and steel mast of the Bridge of Strings at the western entrance to the city was gingerly hoisted into position Monday, to the great relief of light-rail project spokesman Shmuel Elgrabli and Moriah, the municipal company erecting the bridge. With the last segment of the suspension bridge's pylon now in place, work will now proceed in securing the 66 cables, each 5 cm. thick, which will bear the enormous stress of the 4,500-ton structure. Elgrabli termed the feat "highly complex," and declined to speculate when the cable installation would be completed. At the same time, work will be carried out on the pedestrian promenade that forms an integral part of the cantilever bridge, he said. With the cables finally in place, the temporary pillars currently propping up the bridge will then be removed, the track bed laid and traffic flow restored. Through bitter experience, Elgrabli has learned the pitfalls of issuing overly-optimistic construction timetables. The long-delayed light rail transit system, or more accurately the 13.8-km. initial phase of the Red Line, has undergone countless revisions of planning and fitful construction over the last decade. Initially slated to begin operating in March 2006, it was delayed until January 5, 2009, and then postponed again. Elgrabli won't commit to a new date for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting but promises the first tram will be running sometime in May 2010, well into the tenure of Jerusalem's next mayor. Until then, crews are working from opposite ends of the urban infrastructure mega-project and will meet in the middle. Progress on the track laying is clearly visible from the Pisgat Ze'ev northeast terminus, along Derech Shuafat and following Route 60 south to French Hill. At the far southwestern end, rails have been laid along sections of Sderot Herzl from Bayit Vegan to Beit Hakerem. Work will begin shortly on Jaffa Road, the city's main artery which in parts is only two lanes wide. The first section to be affected, beginning in mid-February, will be from the Central Bus Station almost to the Mahaneh Yehuda market. Jaffa Road will not be completely closed, Elgrabli promised, and buses and taxis will continue to navigate through the warren of construction rather than be re-directed through Rehov Agrippas, as City Hall traffic engineers had originally proposed. At the same time, work will advance south from French Hill to the former Mandelbaum Gate along Route 60. Some time in June, track laying crews will proceed from Mahaneh Yehuda to Kikar Davidka, and from the Mandelbaum Gate past the Old City's ramparts to Kikar Safra. Work on the final section, linking Kikar Safra to Kikar Davidka, will begin in July or August, Elgrabli said, estimating that the whole job would take some one and a half years.