Warning: Construction ahead

By Rosh Hashana, significant progress will have been made of some ultra-modern infrastructure.

jerusalem rail 88 (photo credit: courtesy)
jerusalem rail 88
(photo credit: courtesy)
The summer of 2007 promises a culture shock for Jerusalem's many civic cynics who have turned their backs on the future. By Rosh Hashana, the future is set to arrive with a jolt with the completion or at least significant progress of some ultra-modern infrastructure, residential and commercial projects. On May 21, Highway No. 9 - Jerusalem's new northern bypass road - is scheduled to be dedicated in a ceremony with the participation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Mayor Uri Lupolianski. The divided four-lane expressway curves and tunnels east from Motza past Beit Iksa to Ramot where it connects with Highway No. 1. From there, Highway No. 1 continues around the city to the north and east before descending to Ma'aleh Adumim and the Dead Sea. From Mishor Adumim to Highway No. 90, Highway No. 1 is now being widened to a four-lane divided highway. The next link of the Jerusalem ring road will continue south along the eastern edge of the city in a route dictated by the separation wall. This segment will lead to the Nahal Daraja valley between East Talpiot and Sur Bahir, where it will join Derech Moshe Bar-Am. Yehoshua Mor Yoseph, the spokesman for Moriah, the municipal agency that built Highway No. 9, did not know when work is slated to begin on the next segment of the ring road. The new northern bypass road will facilitate construction of the Calatrava Bridge, officially called the "Bridge of Strings," currently rising at the west end of Jaffa Road by the Central Bus Station and the to-be-build underground train station, slated to open in 2011. A bridge of this size and design will change the look of Jerusalem for generations. Suggesting the scope of the bridge, on Monday a 100-meter tall crane with dozens of wires was placed near the bridge, in anticipation of the erection of the mast itself. It was illuminated with special holiday lighting for Jerusalem Day. In addition to all this, tracks for the light rail are now being laid on Sderot Herzl and by Ammunition Hill on Highway No. 60. But the really big inconvenience will begin in October, when sections of Jaffa Road, starting at the Central Bus Station, are slated to be closed for track laying - never to reopen again for private vehicles. The street will be temporarily impassable for pedestrians as well. The light rail, which was due to begin service on January 5, 2009, is now some four or five months behind schedule, according to Shmuel Elgrabli, spokesman for the light rail project. The first streetcar will arrive from France in November, he added. Meanwhile over in Haifa Port, the CityPass consortium (building the urban rail and bus system) is coordinating with the police on when to bring the 118-meter mast of the single-column suspension bridge to Jerusalem. Two of the three sections, fabricated in Italy and each measuring approximately 40 meters, have already arrived. "We won't close the expressway entirely," promised Shmuel Tsabari, project manager for the light rail. With the 118-meter high pylon in place, work will then begin on laying the 66 cables that will support the unique suspension bridge. Averaging four to six "strings" per night, Tsabari anticipated somewhat vaguely that this phase will be finished by the fall. The bridge's horizontal bed should be finished by August, while the vertical mast is scheduled to be raised in September. "I'm not arbitrarily saying fall. This is a very complex thing." For safety reasons, traffic will not be permitted under the bridge at night during this phase of construction. Cars and buses will have to detour via Givat Shaul or Lifta to reach the city center, he said. More major traffic reconfigurations are under way across the city. Matatz, an acronym for Maslul Tahbura Tziburit (Public Transit Route), is going to be on the tip of Jerusalemites' tongues this summer and fall as we gear up for the construction of the city's Red Line LRT and Blue Line busway, both slated to open in two years. With last year's roadwork completed on Keren Hayesod and King George streets, the chaos has now moved south to Derech Hebron and the Ottoman-era train station, and north to Yehezkel and Strauss. Shortly, these streets will be permanently closed to private vehicles to allow buses and taxis to zip ahead. Traffic will be permanently rerouted to an inner city ring encompassing Agron, King Solomon, Tzanhanim, Highway No. 60, Hanevi'im, Kikar Davidka, Kol Yisrael Haverim, Agrippas, Eliash, Shmuel Hanagid and King George streets. Driving downtown inside that circle? Forget about it. Complementing the near ban on downtown traffic will be a new Egged late-night bus, but even if you bring your car to the heart of the city, ever more downtown streets are slated to become pedestrian-only. At a conference last week at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, municipality director-general Eitan Meir spoke about the recent reconfiguration of Rehov Hillel into a broad plaza and one-lane road. "In the coming weeks" the city next plans to make Havatzelet and "little" Bezalel more pedestrian friendly, said Assaf Vitman of the Jerusalem Development Authority. Like Hillel, Rehov Shamai will be reconfigured with the widening of sidewalks and narrowing of the roadway, added Vitman. At the bottom of the street where Shamai meets the Yoel Moshe Salomon pedestrian lane, it will be transformed into a plaza, leaving traffic to inch ahead on Herbert Samuel through Kikar Zion. Vitman said vaguely that this work would begin at the end of the year. Together with the Mamilla Alrov Quarter's 600-meter promenade, this will create an almost continuous network of pedestrian streets between Jaffa Gate and the Beit Ha'am and Gerard Behar Center. The missing gap is the block of Ben-Yehuda from Hahistadrut to King George. Kikar Safra officials plan to close that link to cars following the completion of the light rail in 2009. Many more projects are under way. Turning visionary, municipal director-general Meir showed a slide of Jerusalem's Manhattan-esque future skyline, planned around the Calatrava Bridge. Sderot Zalman Shazar will be buried in a tunnel, creating a 20-dunam parkway extending to Ima Restaurant on Rehov Harav Shmuel Baruch. The plans include an underground 2,000-car parking lot, and a whole new 700-unit neighborhood on the former "temporary" site of the Foreign Ministry. The Shmone Esrai prayer includes the benediction "Blessed are You God, who builds Jerusalem." Forty years after the city's reunification, one wonders how many Jerusalemites stuck in traffic will answer "Amen."