"I am sometimes astonished why Israel's citizens can't get quickly from one place to another. Israelis are stuck in traffic, the road has come to an end. Why should this persist year after year? The time has come to change this, and turn Israel suitable for 2010 with a network of highways," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his special press conference at which he presented his limited transportation plan.
Netanyahu's NIS 51 billion Israel Transportation plan for a network of highways and railroads has been halved. Cuts include the railway lines to Eilat and Kiryat Shmona. The compromise Israel Transport plan will cost NIS 27.5 billion, on which the cabinet will vote on Wednesday.
Netanyahu continued, "Today, we're connecting the country. Our country is one of the smallest in the world, and there is no reason for it not to be connected. I should be able to get from Kiryat Shmona to the Negev without going through a single traffic light. These things have already been done in countries much larger than ours. This has two socioeconomic repercussions. First, it will narrow gaps. We're bringing the whole country closer together, enabling people to move quickly and live where they want. Everyone will live within two hours of Tel Aviv. This will connect the country, and there will be no more Dan Region as there is today.
"The second thing is growth generation. The network will enable development of the north and the south. There era in which all Israeli is backed up and blocked is over."
Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz and top ministry officials were notably absent at the press conference. When "Globes" asked about their absence, Netanyahu replied, "The finance minister was intimately involved in the project even until this morning. You'll hear the finance minister at the next cabinet meeting."
Commenting on the high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway, which has been derailed for six years, Netanyahu said, "I asked what happened to this vision? I was told that there was no tunnel borer. I was furious. The bureaucracy enrages me, and that lit the fuse. I set aside budgets for this line in the midst of a severe crisis. Now we're back in power and so is the project. Years have been lost but they're back now."
According to the Israel Transport plan obtained by "Globes", a compromise has been reached between the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Finance, which objects to many projects on the grounds that they lack economic feasibility. The compromise includes construction of the Jezreel Valley and Acre-Carmiel line, which the Ministry of Finance had hitherto opposed.
"This is the first time that Israel has been planned until the end," said Netanyahu's economic advisor Ori Yogev, who prepared the Israel Transport plan. "This plan was planned through beyond 2020. Everything is ready so that in four years, the same or different people will come to continue its execution. As for the Budget Department, to the best of my knowledge, it's responsible for the budget. I am not evading the issue, since they don’t agree to everything, but it's the prime minister's decision."
The main cuts in the Israel Transport plan are the NIS 6.5 billion Beersheva-Eilat railway, the NIS 3.2 billion Beersheva bypass railway, the NIS 4 billion Carmiel-Kiryat Shmona railway, and the NIS 3.5 billion Wadi Ara/Nahal Iron railway from Hadera to Afula.
The NIS 4.5 billion Eastern Railway line paralleling Road 6 (the Yitzhak Rabin or Cross-Israel Highway) has been deferred, as well as the NIS 3.2 Zevulun line from Yagur to Shlomi that parallels the present line from Haifa to Nahariya.
The Ministry of Finance opposes rebuilding the Jezreel Valley line to Afula and proposes building a light railway from Acre to Carmiel. The ministry believes that railway lines should only be built in areas with severe traffic congestion, specifically in central Israel
The Israel Transport plan will have a NIS 250 million budget in 2010, which be increased to NIS 3.25 billion in 2016-20.
The Israel National Roads Company Ltd. will take over responsibility for building the railway lines in the Galilee from Israel Railways. The Roads Company is already undertaking a NIS 2.5 billion upgrade of Road 65 and 85 in the Galilee to convert them into divided highways.
The Cross Israel Highway Company will build the NIS 3 billion extension of Road 6 north to Kabri. This extension will run parallel to the newly approved Krayot bypass road. The NIS 2 billion southern extension of Road 6 to the Negev Junction south of Beersheva has been shelved.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 22, 2010
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2010