The cabinet is shortly due to approve the NIS 40 billion transportation development plan of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Transport Israel Katz aimed at bringing Israel's periphery closer to the center of the country.
The plan includes a massive expansion of the railway network as well as extending Road 6 (the Yitzhak Rabin, or Cross-Israel Highway) north to Shlomi and south to Hanegev Junction near Beersheva. The Ministry of Finance opposes the plan, doubting its economic feasibility.
Israel National Roads Company Ltd. chairman Micha Goldman, a former Labor Party MK, in his first interview since taking up his post in January 2009, says that his job is to be a "lobbyist for the Negev and Galilee", but says that the Roads Company's development program should take precedence over extending the Road 6 toll road.
"I don’t want to be the opposition to the transport minister and prime minister," says Goldman. "My job is to persuade that our solutions are better for the good for the Galilee and the Negev." Off the record, Ministry of Finance officials wholeheartedly agree, and claim that Ministry of Transport officials say the same.
Goldman strongly supports Netanyahu's multibillion shekel plan to bring the periphery closer to the center, but says that the plan should remember that the Galilee is not a uniform entity. "There is no need to extend Road 6 northwards. The Western Galilee already has enough transportation solutions, including the railway, which reaches Nahariya, and Road 4, which reaches Rosh Hanikra. Road 70 (parallel to Road 4) has four lanes as far as Ahihud and is now being widened toward Shlomi. It will provide a better solution than Road 6."
"Globes": What advantages does your plan have compared with extending Road 6?
Goldman: "We believe that the advantages of upgrading existing roads are much greater, because it exploits the present infrastructure. I assert that the cost of expropriating land for Road 6 will be much more than the expropriations for our plan, most of which have already been made. Road 31 (in the Negev) required expropriation of 1,500 dunam (375 acres), and required no demolition of buildings. Road 6 will require the expropriation of 3,600 dunam (900 acres), and involve the demolition of scattered Bedouin buildings, which means war with the Bedouin."
Following the Public Works Department restructuring in 2003, which included turning it into a government company, the Roads Company under general manager Alex Wiznitser has had excellent relations with the Ministry of Finance and shown strong performance. On this basis, the company now plans to diversify its activity, by expanding into railroad construction and other fields.
Goldman said, "There's a strong chance that we'll get into the railroad business. Israel Railways director general Yitzhak Harel also wants this."
The Roads Company's NIS 20 billion ambitious five-year plan for 2011-15 includes, in the Galilee, upgrading of Road 65, one of Israel's critical traffic arteries, between Wadi Ara through Afula to the Golani Junction; upgrading Road 85 from the Golani Junction to Amiad; Road 79 from Nazareth to Hamovil Junction; and Road 77 from Hamovil Junction to Tiberias. In the Negev, it plans to upgrade Road 31 from Lehavim to Arad at a cost of NIS 1.4 billion, which Goldman calls a strategically important project.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 19, 2010
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