High times

After NIS 250 million has already been spent on a bridge, what's a few million more for the inauguration?

jerusalem bridge 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolismski)
jerusalem bridge 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolismski)
The Calatrava Bridge, better known as the Bridge of Strings, is scheduled to be inaugurated on May 26, and according to the municipal spokesman and the team behind the celebrations of the 40th anniversary since Jerusalem's reunification, the ceremony will be a part of the special events marking the 60th anniversary of the state. City Hall's budget for the opening ceremony is NIS 2 million, says spokesman Gidi Schmerling, and the state will also contribute more, though he does not know how much. The bridge was originally proposed as a solution to an engineering problem in the route of the light rail (the train cannot turn from Jaffa Road onto Sderot Herzl). Later on, then-city engineer Uri Sheetrit secured the approval of the city council to build a bridge conceived and designed by international architect Santiago Calatrava, a decision that saw the bridge's budget balloon from NIS 420,000 to NIS 250 million. Since then, the structure has become a major focal point in the city, occasioning a pomp and circumstance ribbon-cutting ceremony in the framework of the state's 60th anniversary celebrations. According to Schmerling, the opening is scheduled to be attended by a host of dignitaries, including the prime minister, the mayor and guests from abroad. Sources in the municipal Cultural Department say that the event will be open to a very large public, and will be broadcast live on national TV. One of the goals of the event planning team is to secure an international broadcast, preferably on an American network. Although the matter isn't yet settled, according to sources inside Kikar Safra, the chances of an international broadcast are fair. Regarding the ceremony's program of events, it seems that nothing is yet confirmed - at least as far as the event planning team for the city's 40th reunification anniversary is concerned. Schmerling admitted that a few Israeli producers (none of them local, for the moment) have already contacted the municipality and the spokesman's office to offer their programs and performers, but it seems that in the meantime, no agreement has been reached. Thus news of the attendance at the event of American illusionist David Copperfield is only a proposal "that has little chance [of being accepted] because of its high price," Schmerling said. "I am getting ready for anything they might decide upon," said city councilor and comptroller committee head Pepe Allalu (Meretz), adding that "we have to keep in mind that those who have decided upon this bridge, which has cost the taxpayers over NIS 250m. for no other reason than some expensive pride, might as well decide to spend a few more million for some provincial act like a grand opening. "I will not be surprised at all if within a few months I will receive the details of a very costly event, even as we are all aware of this city's and its residents' economic situation," he continued. But Allalu admitted that at least as far as the bridge is concerned, "the work on it took even a little bit less time than scheduled, though it also means that we will have to pay for its maintenance for nothing for two years." According to the arrangement, the bridge's maintenance is to be financed by Kikar Safra for eight years, but as the light rail is slated for completion only in 2010, this translates into two wasted years (and at least NIS 1m.) of bridge maintenance.