NY Transit Authority vet brings his knowledge to Jerusalem

NY Transit Authority veteran Moshe Loshinsky brought his knowledge to Jerusalem - to little avail, he claims.

Ever since the light rail project got under way some five years ago, it has been making headlines, whether for its repeated delays or the dust, traffic congestion and multiple road closures attributed to its intermittent construction. But for former municipal civil engineer Moshe Loshinsky, this train of events comes as no surprise. Before working with the municipality, Jerusalem-born Loshinsky spent many years in New York, where he was deputy chief engineer for the Transit Authority. In 1992, he returned to Israel and founded the Jerusalem Municipality's Subsurface Department, hoping to upgrade standards and efficiency to those of New York. Loshinsky brought to the position an inspection-conscious approach that had typified Transit Authority operations. At every stage of any of the authority's projects, he recalls, engineers had been on hand to supervise construction and collaborate with the various departments that were also involved or affected by the work - a modus operandi, he says, that is noticeably absent from construction in the capital. One example of the different procedures, he says, is in the mixing of building materials (sand, stone, concrete and water). Whereas in New York City inspectors are present at constructions sites to ensure that the proper proportions of materials are used, in Jerusalem, he says, these materials are often mixed en route to the sites, without any inspection. With these disparate operations in mind, Loshinsky set out to institute new inspection standards in municipal construction and to reduce what he refers to as the "zipper action" of repeatedly digging up and filling in large areas in streets. But during his 13-year stint with the municipality, Loshinsky, who is now retired and in his 70s, laments that he was only able to achieve 70 percent of his objective, which he blames on insufficient funds, and a carelessness and inefficiency typical of Middle Eastern attitudes. On the bright side, he says, one procedural change he did succeed in implementing was that if the municipality wants to resurface a sidewalk or street, the plans must be sent to more than 20 departments affected, including the Department of Antiquities, so that if anyone has objections they have time to state them before the project gets under way. The Subsurface Department does not issue approval until it receives replies from all the other departments - a process that takes some three to four weeks. When the replies do come in, the relevant departments mark cables, water pipes and sewage pipes that exist in the designated area of the project to avoid damage to them during construction. Although this works in theory, it doesn't completely work in practice, Loshinsky admits. "Contractors hit pipes and cables because they don't have much inspection." Whereas in New York buildings adjacent to construction sites are photographed and examined so as to eliminate false claims of damage caused by construction, he says, in Israel this procedure wasn't used much before the advent of the light rail project, and even now, the practice hasn't really caught on, nor is it foolproof. Another reason that Jerusalem suffers from so much construction upheaval, explains Loshinsky, is that the electric company has no conduits, so that whenever electric power has to be reinforced in any particular street or suburb, the street is dug up. At one stage, there was a decision to lower overhead cables to subsurface, but not everyone at City Hall was in favor of the idea, and imposed certain restrictions. The upshot, he says, was that instead of lowering all the cables in one fell swoop, the project was spread out over a number of years, during which time the electric company ran out of money, so there are areas in which the cables are still overhead. Also, while Bezeq may not be doing much with regard to digging up the roads these days, says Loshinsky, there are cable companies that compete with Bezeq, that are digging up a substantial part of the city to put in their own infrastructure. There is no coordination between the electric company and the cable companies, he adds. But it's not only the quality and efficiency of subsurface operations that bother Loshinsky. Brick paving, which is now a feature of Israeli streets, was introduced so that it could be taken apart with greater regularity and ease to meet subsurface needs, says Loshinsky, but more often than not, the brick is not set solidly, the paving becomes uneven, especially after two or three rainfalls, and ultimately does more harm than good. In New York, the sidewalks are made of concrete, and are therefore more pedestrian-friendly, he says. There is no sense of continuity in the public sector, he points out, because salaries are inadequate, and good people are tempted by lucrative offers from the private sector. It's also difficult to introduce change into the public sector, "but even when there is change, it doesn't necessarily mean improvement." That, he says, can only come with proper analysis. A spokesperson for the municipality wrote in response that, "Every construction project in Jerusalem is authorized and supervised by an engineer who is responsible for verifying that construction adheres to guidelines and that all building materials are handled accordingly." With regard to the subsurface electrical infrastructure, the spokesperson wrote: "The municipality only takes initiative on replicating electrical infrastructure below ground when it is charged with a construction project that requires doing so. Otherwise, the electric company is responsible for replicating electrical infrastructure below ground, and the municipality supports and authorizes the electric company's requests." As for the state of sidewalks in the capital, the spokesperson wrote: "There is no difference between sidewalks that are made of brick and those made of asphalt. Jerusalem's sidewalks are paved in accordance with relevant bylaws."