If you use Route 60 and you live between Betar Illit and Jerusalem, rejoice. Soon you’ll be treated to a wonderful, new road with spacious lanes and fast-moving traffic, along with a new bridge and tunnel. But if you live south of the Road 60 turnoff to Betar Illit (the Husan/El Khadr junction), your Route 60 experience will continue to be slow, hellish, and rife with accidents.
Route 60, a.k.a the Tunnels Road, is a two-lane road serving all residents of Gush Etzion, Beitar Illit, Efrat, Kiryat Arba, Hebron, Tzur Hadassah, Mevo Beitar, and Mateh Yehuda. It is encumbered with heavy traffic jams during most hours of the day, in the mornings going from Gush Etzion to Jerusalem, and in the afternoon on the opposite lane. But these days, when you travel in the Gush Etzion area, you’ll see the renovation and widening of Route 60, which should make motorists’ experience there much more comfortable, faster, and safer. A second tunnel has been excavated, an additional bridge is being built, a new underpass has been dug, new lanes have been paved, and the existing ones are undergoing expansion.
But according to Makor Rishon (כביש גוש עציון-ירושלים: העבודות יוקפאו, הפקקים יימשכו), while the section of road between the Tunnels Junction and the Husan/El Khadr Junction (the turnoff for Beitar on Road 60) is in advanced work procedures after all the budgets needed for its work have been transferred – works on the section of the road from the same point to the entrance to the settlement of Elazar will be postponed indefinitely.
The full length of the project—from the Rosemarin Junction at the end of Jerusalem’s Begin Road south to the town of Elazar in Gush Etzion—is about 12 km (7.5 miles). Most of the preparation work has been completed for the entire stretch.
Or, as Makor Rishon put it: “The plans were submitted, and the work on the ground began to expose the land, pile up at the curb in preparation for the widening of the road – but it turns out that the Ministries of Transport and Finance are not eager to transfer the funds needed to further widen the road.”
According to Oded Revivi, Head of the Efrat Local Council, the stretch of the project from Jerusalem to the Husan Junction, connecting Jerusalem with Betar Illit, remains intact, extra tunnel and all, because its budget is not controlled by the Transport Ministry. But the rest of it—6 km or about half the original plan—has been decimated. Revivi went live on Facebook Monday to explain the situation, in response to the Makor Rishon article, and his elaborate, 6-minute explanation (one minute for each nixed kilometer of the road) came down to the fact that the council head sent a letter to the minister hoping to change her mind.
Or, as we said at the beginning, the section of Route 60 that won’t be widened until further notice will leave intact the morning-to-night traffic jams for the nice people of Gush Etzion.
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman pointed out that there is a car accident on that short stretch of road nearly every single day. “Do we once again find ourselves held hostage by politicians on the way to receiving basic service from the state, in which we are equal citizens? The people of Gush Etzion find it difficult to believe that such a decision was indeed made, but if so, it must be reversed immediately and the opposite done: to allow the continuation of the works, which have already cost the state many millions,” Ne’eman said.
The funny/sad thing is that by messing with the quality of life in Gush Etzion, the new mother in charge of transportation in Israel is also messing with the good people of Bethlehem, who will be cramming the south-bound lane of Route 60 on their way to Hebron, and the north-bound on the way back.
The Ministry of Finance responded: “The Ministry of Transportation is currently preparing the strategic road plan. The work is expected to be completed during 2022 [see update below regarding the year], after which the projects will be budgeted in accordance with accepted work procedures.”
Or, there’s nothing to see here, please go home.
The Ministry of Transportation stated: “In recent years, the Ministry of Transportation has promoted comprehensive staff work to build a strategic plan for the national road system in Israel. The plan will be submitted for approval to the Ministry of Transportation during the year 2022 [see update below regarding the year]. After approval of the strategic plan, the ministry will hold discussions with the Ministry of Finance to budget the plan.”
In other words – ditto.
Update: The budget for the construction of the tunnel and bridge section of the road are part of the coalition agreements and construction is continuing on that section. While the budget for the smaller, but crucial, Husan-Elazar segment is part of the Strategic Road Plan, in which a number of roads around the country have not received a budget, according to an update in Makor Rishon. Furthermore, according to the new report, it now appears this section probably won’t be budgeted until 2023. Mayor of Efrat Oded Revivi said he will work to pressure the relevant ministries to continue the work on the road before then.