The Travel Nightmare Begins in August

by Brian on June 22, 2012

in In the News,Only in Israel

Anyone who’s ever driven up the hill on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway in the afternoon, in the stretch between Sha’ar Hagai to Shoresh, knows that during rush hour it can be a nightmare. The combination of a steep incline, too many curves and slow trucks in the right lane can – and often does – result in a seizure-inducing back up. Add an accident – also a common occurrence – and what you thought would be a 20-minute final sprint to Jerusalem can be double or triple the time.

So when the Israel National Roads Company proposed a major overhaul of the road – which was originally built during the late 1960s and early 1970s with a few slight improvements in the last decade – commuters cheered. That is until they read that the construction, which is slated to start in August, would stretch until 2016. And as we all know too well, that really means 2020.

If the timeline is somehow adhered to, during the first year construction will be limited to work along the shoulders of the present road and the mountain slopes above it. But from 2013-2015, at the height of the work, “drivers would be wise to avoid Road 1 altogether,” the Israeli publication Globes quotes a spokesperson from the Roads Company. Road 1 administration chief David Landsman adds that “I promise to keep the road open. But I cannot promise that the present traffic speed will be maintained.”

Even during the first “mild” year, drivers tend to hit the brakes when they see roadwork, even if it’s far from the road itself, the Globes article adds. That doesn’t bode well.

The construction is not just between Sha’ar Hagai and Shoresh (which will, when its’ done, be expanded to three lanes in each direction). There will also be two three-lane bridges that will eliminate the deadly Motza curve, and a tunnel beneath the Harel interchange. The total cost for the work is NIS 2.35 billion ($610 million).

There’s no real choice to this construction work. Barring a complete and total switch to public transportation, a study by the Roads Company found that, unless the four-lane road is widened, within 20 years, the average travel time along just the 16-kilometer stretch from Sha’ar Hagai to the western entrance of Jerusalem will take more than 40 minutes, almost as long as the time needed to travel the entire 60 minutes from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (at least when the road is clear), reports Globes.

What should drivers do in the meantime? The Roads Company is recommending drivers switch to Highway 443. I already use that route to avoid the current backups on Highway 1, but if everyone starts to use my little secret, the benefit will quickly evaporate. Keep in mind, also, that 443 goes through the West Bank and so there are Israeli army checkpoints that can get quite jammed during rush hours too.

When it’s all done, though, traveling on the re-imagined Highway 1 is expected to be 20 minutes faster. By that time, the fast train between Israel’s two largest cities will also be nearly operational: that’s supposed to cut the total journey to only 30 minutes. I’ll believe that when I see it. The Jerusalem Light Rail was also supposed to make travel more efficient. In the meantime, I think I’ll be doing a whole lot more Skype.

I warned you first here on Israelity.

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