Smotrich blocks expansion of coastal highway

Coastal highway credit: Shlomi Yosef
Coastal highway credit: Shlomi Yosef

Diversion and expansion of Road 2 will be delayed at least five years as Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich opposes allocating new land to Jisr az-Zarqa.

For years, there have been plans to expand the coastal highway (Road 2), one of Israel's most important highways, Road 2, in order to ease congestion and add bus and car pool lanes in each direction. The plan for the section between Zichron Ya'akov and Caesarea was approved in 2016 and has even been allocated an initial budget of NIS 230 million out of a total of NIS 1.7 billion needed. Now, just as the final signature was needed to get the project off the ground, Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich opposed the funding, and the project has been removed from the five-year road construction plan. The road was to be diverted eastwards onto a new route near Jisr az-Zarqa, on land belonging to Moshav Beit Hanania, while a new neighborhood for the Arab village would be built on the present route of the highway.

The moshav's development depends on diverting the highway

The plan, approved in 2016, also includes developing Beit Hanania, which is bordered by the coastline and the Nahal Hataninim nature reserve. The moshav is in the second poorest socioeconomic decile, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics - 26% of its residents are unemployed and the average monthly salary is just NIS 5,767. Over the years planning institutions made development plans for the moshav dependent on diverting Road 2 eastwards.

Objections against the plan to divert Road 2 were examined by an external auditor. Beit Hanina's residents claimed that the new road would harm their farming land and that the problem of the expected increase in Jisr al-Zarqa could be solved within its current borders. It is also claimed that in any case the plan would require massive investments in infrastructure and homes making it not worthwhile.

In addition, the moshav residents argued that the affected areas amount to about 400 dunams (100 acres), and that the proximity of the houses to the road would create noise and pollution hazards, and that the construction of a new urban residential neighborhood in Jisr, on the vacated land from the existing Road 2, would harm "the rural quality of life and the peace of Beit Hanania. Already today, their quality of life is being harmed as a result of failed management and the way of life in the nearby village (Jisr)." Finally, it was argued that "the growth of settlements must be demarcated and limited, especially at the cost of harming others. The residents of Beit Hanania are the second generation of Holocaust survivors who were expelled from their homes."

Despite the many claims, the auditor decided that the total expropriation would amount to about 300 dunams (75 acres) out of the moshav's 2,100 dunams (525 acres) of land. The moshav's houses would be at least 800 meters from the new road so there would be no concern of damage to acoustics or air quality. The auditor also pointed out that the village of Jisr al-Zarqa is no different from any other village, and its expansion should be allowed even if it is at the expense of a neighboring village.

Smotrich has changed the decision of the previous government

The Bennett-Lapid government took a decision to socioeconomically strengthen Jisr al-Zarqa and part of this was to move forward with the plan to divert Road 2 eastwards. The Coastal Highway project was classified as top priority and funds were allocated as part of the five-year road building plan.

However, in the recent budget discussions between the government ministries, in addition to the pressure exerted by MKs from the Likud, Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich pressed not to provide a budget for the expansion of the highway and its diversion, and as a result it did not enter the basket of projects to be implemented over the next five years. Smotrich's involvement is also reflected in the high rate of infrastructure development budgets in Judea and Samaria, all part of the same strategic plan.

Nevertheless, previous Minister of Transport Merav Michaeli did allocate NIS 230 million for promoting the project by preparing the land and beginning work for the expropriation Beit Hanania wanted to avoid. But the entire project will cost NIS 1.7 billion and it is now unclear whether it will ever be implemented.

A statement on behalf of the minister of finance said, "The budget agreement between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transport reflects the order of priorities, the importance and urgency of  infrastructure projects in Israel, and that is how it will be in the future as well."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on May 11, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Coastal highway credit: Shlomi Yosef
Coastal highway credit: Shlomi Yosef
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