Eight transport projects to clear the jams

Tel Aviv light railway

"Globes" reveals the projects designed to relieve road congestion, their cost, where they stand, and the likelihood that they will really change our lives.

1. Metro

Budget cost: NIS 150 billion

Projected completion date: 2030

Probability of meeting the timetable: Low Reason: Lack of a financing plan and extremely difficult planning with authorities could delay the project for years.

"There is no metropolis in the world without a metro, and we are working on a metro for the greater Tel Aviv region. I assume that within a decade, there will be a metro here, and the situation will be much better," Ministry of Finance deputy budget department director for infrastructure Adi Hachmon recently told "Globes." Even countries like Iran, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt have modern metros.

Although the first proposals for designing an underground railway in Tel Aviv were made in the 1930s, the plan for building it began to pick up steam only in the past year. The Metropolitan Mass Transit System (NTA), which is responsible for the initial planning stage, published a tender for statutory planning of the metro lines. Apart from the planning stage, the government has not yet made a budgetary allocation for the NIS 150 billion projected cost of the metro, an enormous investment that will be one of the world's 10 most expensive projects. "Globes" recently revealed that under the plan submitted to the Ministry of Finance by the McKinsey consultation firm, the state will finance only half of the Tel Aviv metro project. The rest will come from two main sources: future operating revenue, and fees and levies imposed on all the parties for whom the project will generate value (local authorities, business owners, and properties along the route), as is the prevailing practice in similar projects around the world.

Unlike a light rail, which may run in close proximity to vehicles and which has to cross road junctions, metros are suitable for higher demand and longer distances. Light railways provider better and more accessible service for short distances. The planned metro lines will have 100 stations and a combined length of 130 kilometers. According to the forecasts, the metro will carry nearly 500 million passenger journeys annually, making it a real solution to traffic jams in Israel.

There is no projected completion date for this huge project, but Ministry of Finance sources now talk about 2030. Beside the project's engineering challenge, planning is also a problem. The metro will pass through 24 local authorities, which can easily delay the project for years. For the sake of comparison, the light railway Red Line passes through only five local authorities. At the same time, NTA, which is responsible for the planning stage, has a great deal of experience with similar work.

2. Metropolitan transportation authorities

Budgetary cost: None

Projected completion date: Unknown

Probability of meeting the timetable: Irrelevant Reason: The project is stalled in Knesset committees

34 of the 36 largest metropolises in the developed countries have metropolitan authorities. Since 1996, the subject has been put on the public agenda many times. Civil service professionals have recommended establishment of such authorities, the matter was mentioned in the State Comptroller's report, and the government has passed resolutions about it, but no such authorities have arisen.

A metropolitan transportation authority unites a number of communities in the same metropolitan area and makes transportation decisions. Such authorities could help to solve the road congestion problem. The idea is simple: the local authorities are better able to plan, promote, and operate public transportation systems in their territory. In addition, shifting responsibility for transportation problems from central to local government will make the local authorities, currently the main factor impeding large transportation ventures, responsible for the delays they cause.

For years, Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz opposed a bill promoted by the Ministry of Finance for establishing metropolitan authorities because it would empower the local authorities at the expense of his ministry. Following a compromise in the matter, it was decided to promote metropolitan authorities in Jerusalem and Beersheva. The greater Tel Aviv region, Israel's real metropolis, remained out of the picture because of the minister's opposition.

After Katz finally agreed to go ahead with the bill, it encountered another obstacle: opposition by the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, which feared that empowering the municipalities would lead to a possible breach of the status quo if the metropolises decide to allow use of public transportation on Saturdays. Six months ago, the Knesset House Committee, led by chairperson MK Miki Zohar (Likud), removed the section of the Economic Arrangements Bill establishing metropolitan transportation authorities. While the Economic Arrangements Bill is approved on a shortened timetable, ordinary legislation is likely to be delayed for many years; as of now, this is the case. The bill is currently stalled in a special committee headed by MK David Amsalem (Likud).

3. Fourth Ayalon railway track

Budgetary cost: NIS 5.5 billion

Project completion date: 2027

Probability of meeting the timetable: Medium Reason: The land expropriation stage has been completed, including the arrangement with the Mikveh Israel agricultural high school, which took years to reach.

Construction of a fourth Ayalon railway track, only 22 kilometers long, is a typical examples of the unreasonable prolonging of infrastructure projects in Israel. The project was in planning for nearly a decade, and is slated for completion in 8-9 years. It was stalled for nearly a decade in the planning institutions, and will soon advance to the implementation stage.

The fourth track plan, stretching from north of the Halacha Interchange to the Kibbutz Galuyot Interchange, is designed to release the bottleneck created in the Ayalon strip, through which all of Israel's main railway routes pass: north-to-south, eastward (Modi'in and, in the future, Jerusalem), and trains traveling to Tel Aviv. Only three tracks currently pass through the Ayalon segment, which creates a traffic jam and limits the frequency of trains.

The National Infrastructure Planning and Building Commission and the housing cabinet recently approved the plan. Options for increasing railway passenger traffic, already near full capacity, are limited until this plan is completed. The need for another track along the Ayalon has been discussed for decades, but substantial progress has been made only in the past two years. It is likely that when this difficult project is built, it will already no longer provide an adequate response to the growing number of railway passengers.

In order to construct a fourth track in the Ayalon River channel, the river has to be diverted. Since this will cause floods in wintertime, flood areas will be created as a drainage solution, some of them on the territory of the Mikveh Israel agricultural high school (in accordance with the approved National Outline Plan). It is also necessary to expropriate 60 dunam (15 acres) of agricultural land for the new track. The project, which is being carried out by the National Transport Infrastructure Company (Netivei Israel), has a projected completion date of 2027. Now that the land expropriation stage has been completed, including the arrangement with Mikveh Israel, which took years and slowed the project, the project is now advancing to the initial implementation stages. One of the current challenges in carrying out the fourth Ayalon railway track project is its interface with the railway electrification project now taking place in the same area.

4. The greater Tel Aviv light rail

Budgetary cost: NIS 45 billion

Projected completion date: 2021 for the Red Line, 2025 for the network of three lines

Probability of meeting the timetable: Low Reason: Main difficulties are groundwater, proximity to the sea, opposition to work on Saturdays in Bnei Brak

The greater Tel Aviv light railway project is designed to significantly ease road congestion in the crowded greater Tel Aviv region. The project is being carried out by NTA, a government company, at a total cost of over NIS 45 billion.

The launch of the first Tel Aviv light rail line is planned for late 2021, but the State Comptroller warned in his last report against possible delays in launching the Red Line. The main hazards liable to cause unanticipated delays are larger quantities of groundwater in the work areas than anticipated in NTA's planning, and the proximity to the sea, which causes large accumulations of underground groundwater. The Bnei Brak municipality has also recently sought to halt light railway work in its jurisdiction.

The Red Line alone is likely to keep 50,000 vehicles off the road, but real relief in the greater Tel Aviv region will come when the network of three lines goes into operation. This involves "connectivity," among other things - one of the reasons that public transport in Israel is unpopular is the inability of passengers to complete the last mile to their final destination. A passenger alighting at a railway station has to walk a considerable distance on foot to his or her final destination or the nearest bus stop. NTA recently published tenders for construction of the other two lines: the Green Line and the Purple Line.

The MTS group, led by Africa-Israel Investments Ltd. (TASE:AFIL), which won a build, operation, transfer (BOT) tender in 2006, was originally supposed to have constructed the Red Line. In view of delays in closing the financing and demands for changes by MTS, the state decided in 2010, following prolonged negotiations, to cancel the franchise agreement and nationalize the project. Many in the Ministry of Finance and the business sector still regard this decision as a historic mistake, noting that since NTA took over from MTS, the completion date for the project has been put off for five years, and its cost to the state budget ballooned from NIS 8.6 billion to NIS 16 billion.

5. Railway electrification project

Budgetary cost: NIS 12 billion

Projected completion date: 2021

Probability of meeting the timetable: Low  Reason: The launch of the first line to Jerusalem has already been delayed, and the contractor wants to abandon the project.

The high-speed railway to Jerusalem electrification project, which began in 2005, is only the first stage of a giant project - converting almost all of Israel Railways' passenger routes from diesel to electricity. Due to the delay in launching the first electrified route, which has not yet been completed all the way to Tel Aviv, electrification of the other routes will not be continued. Work on the high-speed line to Jerusalem is slated for completion in 2019.

When the railway electrification project was planned, Israel Railways' wanted the contractor to begin electrification work on additional routes simultaneously with work on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem route. In practice, however, this did not happen, because the minister of transport ordered launching of the route to Jerusalem before the Sukkot holiday, causing Israel Railways and the  contractor to concentrate all their resources on the first project, without working simultaneously on other routes.

The significance of the delay is that Israel Railways will be unable to increase train frequency on crowded routes, and it will be impossible to add routes at the rate planned to deal with population growth and the growing demand for railway transportation. Greater train frequency and additional routes are a key measure for increasing the proportion of passengers traveling by rail, which is currently one quarter of the average in OECD countries.

The original estimated cost of converting all of the railway lines and related systems to electricity was NIS 12 billion. This conversion is essential: railways in all of the world's developed countries have been powered by electricity for many years. Diesel is more expensive, pollutes more, and is noisier. Diesel trains are slower, and cannot be used at all on certain routes, such as the route to Jerusalem, because the long tunnels on the route cannot be ventilated. Israel Railways' most recent annual reports stated a projected completion date of late 2021, but there are grounds for believing that this target could be postponed later. Work on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem route has not yet been completed, and there is concern that the contractor will withdraw after the line to Jerusalem is completed, which is liable to delay the project by several years because it will be necessary to issue a new tender.

6. Fast lanes

Budgetary cost: NIS 5.5 billion

Projected completion date: 2025

Probability of meeting the timetable: Medium  Reason: The tenders for the work, which should have been published a year ago, have not yet been published.

The first fast toll lane in Israel, between the Shapirim Interchange and Tel Aviv,  was inaugurated in January 2011. It has been a great success in keeping thousands of vehicles off the congested roads every morning.

Tenders for constructing and operating additional fast toll lanes at the entrances to Tel Aviv will probably be published only towards the end of the year, a year later than the original timetable for this critical transportation project, which will remove tens of thousands of vehicles a day from the roads at the entrances to Tel Aviv.

The project, carried out by the Ayalon Highways Company, is for the construction of 110 kilometers of fast lanes in metropolitan Tel Aviv, almost 10 times the current aggregate length in Israel. The lanes will be added to the existing highways; no existing highway lanes will be barred to ordinary vehicles. Travel in fast toll lanes will be allowed free of charge for pubic transport and for vehicles carrying three or more passengers. Huge park-and-ride parking lots will be built and a free-of-charge shuttle system instituted. Public transport will be improved, and shared rides to high-demand locations in Tel Aviv will be encouraged. Paid journeys by private vehicles on the fast toll lanes will be allowed only if there is enough room on them.

Construction is about to begin on the main segment in the project, which stretches southward from the Hashalom Interchange to Wolfson Medical Center, and is slated for completion in 2022. Completion of the entire project, including parking lots, is scheduled for 2025.

The original date set during the preselection stage for publishing the tender was in the third quarter of 2017, but it has still not been published. At present, this important NIS 5.5 billion project, designed to dramatically improve road congestion at the entrances to metropolitan Tel Aviv, is stalled in the Ministry of Finance's tenders committee.

7. Going Green 3

Budgetary cost: NIS 1 billion

Projected completion date: 2025

Probability of meeting the timetable: High  Reason: A decade is a long  time, and the longer the trial stage takes, the more incentives to drivers will cost.

The aim of the project is to encourage a change in driver behavior by providing monetary incentives and benefits for heavy users of private vehicles aimed at reducing the number of their trips in the greater metropolitan Tel Aviv region at peak times. The project will examine the effect of the various incentives on the habits of the drivers participating in the trial. The project is very close to a congestion fee scheme, which accounts for Katz's years of stubborn opposition to it.

The project, which is being carried out by Ayalon Highways, is still classed as a trial and is making very slow progress. Its third stage is due to start this year and to last seven years. The cost is estimated at NIS 1 billion. Most of the tender budget is designated for driver incentives.

The project, which is a continuation of two earlier pilots, will have 100,000 volunteer drivers participating over a period of years. The volunteers will receive a NIS 4,500 virtual annual budget, which will increase or decrease during the project according to the change in their driving habits: the number of trips, travel at peak times, and location of travel. If the pilot stage proves successful before the seven-year predetermined period is up, the project can be redefined as a national plan.

8. Mahir La'Ir (Fast to the City)

Budgetary cost: NIS 3.5 billion

Projected completion date: 2022

Probability of meeting the timetable: Medium  Reason: The local elections are now over.

The Mahir La'Ir project is for the planning and execution of a network of public transport lanes in the city centers of 17 different authorities in the greater Tel Aviv area. Government company Ayalon Highways is executing the project, which is designed to transform the level of bus service; at present, buses must wait at traffic jams together with private vehicles.

The time required to pave a road is usually much less than for the light rail project, for example, but completion of the project is nevertheless scheduled only four years from now. The reason is delay by the local authorities, whose heads preferred to wait until after the local elections in order to avoid facing criticism from residents. Work on the project requires putting one lane out of service, usually at the expense of parking spaces and a lane for private vehicles. Work on the project has so far begun in only four cities, and will begin in four more by the end of the year. The planned critical mass of sections is slated for 2019, and Ayalon Highways predicts that the project will be completed by 2022, while the Ministry of Finance estimates completion by 2023. Partial operation of the lanes is also possible.

The project includes safety improvements, paving of bicycle lanes, preference at traffic lights, real-time information signs, upgrading bus stops, signs and marking for priority arteries, service additions, making the area accessible to people, and ticketing technology and entering buses via all of their doors.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 3, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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