Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (Meretz).

During a Wednesday meeting between Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and the head of the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council Niv Wiesel, the Minister said that the construction of Highway 39 is not included in the 2021-2022 budget, and added that she would do everything in her power to stop the project.

Highway 39 is a planned, fast four-lane access road to Jerusalem that will cross the lowlands and the Jerusalem mountains, connecting the fast toll Highway 6 to Ashdod, Beit Shemesh, and western Jerusalem. The Highway will cross Rt. 38 and pass near Rt. 375 between the Ella Junction and Tzur Hadassah, through the Ella Valley.

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It should be noted that the highway’s planners have emphasized that it crosses a national ecological corridor, passing through reserves and forests, and crosses streams, unique agricultural areas, and archeological sites, which is why they would create ecological passages along its path. A detailed plan for the new highway has been approved by the National Planning Committee, the road is being promoted by the Ministry of Transportation, and the governmental roadwork agency Netivei Israel is in charge of its construction. The initial cost is estimated at NIS 1.85 billion ($570 million).

Zandberg is not happy with the planners’ dedication to securing against the highway’s environmental risks. It should also be noted that originally, Highway 39 was also supposed to connect Jerusalem to Ashkelon and Beer Sheva. But this changed following the freezing of the eastern part of the highway, which was supposed to connect Tzur Hadassah to Jerusalem. In the current plan, Highway 39 will only reach the Hadassah access road, so some government officials are questioning the need for it altogether since it won’t be serving its promised purposes. The Tzur Hadassah-Jerusalem road would have removed congestion on Gush Etzion’s Tunnel road.

Assaf Plus, engineer and director of the Planning Division in the Development and Engineering Division of Netivei Israel, told Calcalist in July that Israel must have new roads: “The State of Israel is still young and has not yet completed the creation of its road network, and all this is happening alongside constant growth in population and trade,” Plus contended. He stressed that a road network is critical for living and livelihood, and “an analysis performed by a large team of experts in transportation, economics, and urban planning revealed that the country’s road network suffers from the absence of east-to-west roads and regional roads.”

He also believes that since in the coming decade the private car will remain the main means of transportation for Israelis, “It is our duty as a country to provide solutions to this need.”

Dror Boimel, director of planning at the Society for the Protection of Nature, told Calcalist that “the construction of new roads and the addition of lanes for private vehicles on existing roads will encourage buying more private vehicles and create a vicious circle that increases congestion with the consequent demand for more and more roads. The only way to solve the congestion is to completely stop investing in private car infrastructure, and diverting tens of billions of shekels earmarked for highway construction to mass transit infrastructure and public transportation.”

“For years, professionals and decision-makers have understood that the only way to solve road congestion, reduce air pollution, and provide an opportunity for Israel’s demographic and economic growth to continue is to promote public transportation,” Boimel said.

Ministers Zandberg, Elharar and Michaeli. / Courtesy of the Ministry of Environmental Protection

In July, Minister of Transportation and Road Safety Merav Michaeli (Labor), Energy Minister Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), and Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg met to discuss a joint decision to promote an electric transportation system in Israel. The budget for the joint decision is estimated at NIS 650 ($200 million) million, of which NIS 360 million ($111 million) is intended for urban and interurban electric buses and the infrastructure for charging them; NIS 100 million ($31 million) for the promotion of pollution-reduced areas in cities, NIS 90 million ($28 million) for a green work plan and approx. NIS 100 million ($31 million) for charging stations, and research and development in the field of clean transportation.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.