Israel's Minister of Transport Miri Regev is so angry with NTA about the delays in the start of operations of the Tel Aviv light rail Red Line that she has declared her plans to move supervision of the Metro project to another company. But the same time a chain of events and foot dragging by Regev herself and her own aides is threatening delays to the huge Metro project.
Sources familiar with the matter have told "Globes" that back in February, plans were put on Regev's desk for expropriating buildings around the Metro stations as part of the two Metro lines that have already been approved: M1 from Glilot via Tel Aviv, Holon, Rishon Lezion, Beer Yaakov, Ramla, Lod and Ness Ziona to Rehovot, and M3 which will run from Herzliya, via Ben Gurion Airport to Bat Yam.
Regev has already signed expropriation orders for other projects, including the extension of the Red Line to Rishon LeZion (a day after the publication in Globes of her decision to divert its implementation budget to finance new roads), but the Metro's expropriation orders remain on her desk, even though these orders are extremely urgent. These are complicated expropriations of buildings, including residential housing. Unlike the light rail which runs mainly along roads, construction of the metro stations will require the expropriation of quite a few buildings. In the next step, the underground route will also be expropriated, which will also pass under buildings.
There is still time until the works begin in the field, but expropriation of this type requires years of preparation. Israel has never faced a project on the scale of the Metro - an underground railway system with an estimated cost of NIS 150 billion that will pass through 24 local authorities and include 109 stations. According to estimates, the compensation from the expropriation of the buildings for the construction of the metro will reach tens of billions of shekels, encompassing about 900 properties including about 700 housing units and the rest office buildings, factories and more.
Regev's terms for promoting the Metro
Regev even concedes that she is holding back actions related to the implementation of the project. In response to "Globes" question about the delay in signing the expropriation orders, her office said "the Minister of Transport and Road Safety instructed the professionals to continue Metro planning activities, but due to the huge budgets that were allocated in the past, however, with regard to implementation work, the Minister has instructed not to promote actions for implementation until it is consolidated and there is budgeting for a plan to connect the State of Israel from the north to the south. The Ministry of Transport headed by the minister insists on investing in transportation infrastructure not only in Metropolitan Tel Aviv, but throughout the entire State of Israel and has as its aim the connection of the entire State of Israel, from north to south, through modern and advanced transport infrastructures."
It is unclear whether the delay in the expropriation orders is included in the "implementation" that Regev is deliberately holding back, but it is clear that without them it will not be possible to implement the project. On the other hand, the "modern and advanced" transport infrastructures that Regev wants to budget before removing the dam, are still far off. In the state budget that passed last week, the Kiryat Shmona to Eilat railway project received a budget of NIS 200 million for planning, while the project's cost estimate stands at NIS 60 billion. Considering that this is a two-year budget, it is not clear how and when Regev will remove the ultimatum that blocks the largest transport project in the country's history.
Regev also obstructed the light rail
This is not the first time that Regev has refused to sign expropriation orders for large transport projects. In the past, the Minister of Transport refused to sign the expropriation of buildings in Tel Aviv's Kfar Shalem as part of the Purple Line route - despite pleas from the government's legal counsel, and officials at the Ministries of Transport and Finance. The delays led to the postponement of the announcement of the tender winners for implementing the second phase of the project. In the end, the tender envelopes were opened and winners were announced only after Regev left the ministry and the buildings were vacated.
Chronic foot dragging in huge projects
This adds to the overall foot-dragging in the Metro project. Since Regev took office five months ago, the search committee for the position of director of the Metro Authority - the leading regulatory body of the project - has not yet met and senior candidates are waiting to hear if they have got the job (if their candidacy is still relevant at all). Regev's office said, "The ministry is currently dealing with the commission to set the composition of the search committee, which aims to convene as soon as possible to elect the head of the Metro Authority."
And that's not all. Supervising the Metro Authority will be an executive committee with representatives from the ministries of transport and finance to discuss major matters relating to the project. However, this committee has yet to be formed, a recent "Globes" report revealed that foreign companies are reconsidering their continued involvement in the tenders for the construction of the Metro, among other things due to Regev's statements about the project, the transfer of the project from NTA to another company, and the planned judicial reform. At this stage, it is also possible that the delay in the expropriation orders would also be discussed by the executive committee, had it been formed.
Another issue standing in the way of the Metro is the identity of the company implementing the project. Following Regev's attempt to take the project away from NTA, and Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich's opposition to the move, the ministers were supposed to discuss the issue with the aim of reaching agreement - but after three weeks no such talks have taken place. Nor have there been any talks on the Metro Law itself, which deals with the huge budgeting of the project, well beyond the preliminary estimates.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 31, 2023.
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