Tel Aviv cheers new subway, bemoans its construction
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Tel Aviv cheers new subway, bemoans its construction

In 2011, when Los Angeles shut down a stretch of one of its busiest highways for a weekend of repairs, residents braced for a traffic jam “of biblical proportions.” Similar sentiments preceded the start of construction of Tel Aviv’s long-awaited light rail system earlier this month.

But rather than a few days of inconvenience, city officials warned that construction is likely to cause extensive congestion in the center of Israel, already the country’s busiest corridor, for years to come.

“Switch to public transportation,” Brig. Gen. Yoram Ohayon, deputy commander of the Tel Aviv District police, advised commuters at a press conference. “It will be easier to get to Tel Aviv and to move about inside it that way.”

The Tel Aviv rail system would be a welcome relief for the approximately half a million cars that flood the city daily from surrounding suburbs, and ultimately mitigate what has become a citywide parking lot of honking cars and buses navigating narrow one-way streets or feeding into a handful of major thoroughfares during rush hour.

But to make shakshuka, you’ve got to break a few eggs. And to give Tel Aviv a light rail system, you have to make a few traffic jams — and blow up a bridge or two.

Traffic in the city during the first weeks of construction hasn’t been as bad as some people feared.

But officials expect that to change when several major junctions are closed in the near future, and in particular when the 39-year-old Maariv Bridge is demolished to make room for the new Carlebach underground light rail station that will rise on its ruins.

However necessary the project may be, don’t expect Israelis to bear it quietly.

Business owners have bemoaned the disruption to parking, as well as the inevitable dust, debris, and noise that drive away customers — not to mention a fear of invading rats driven aboveground by underground construction.

Officials working on the rail system’s initial Red Line, comprising 10 underground stations, said the area affected by increased traffic could span a radius of more than 25 miles — reaching as far north as the city of Netanya, to Ashdod to the south and to Modi’in to the east — and exacerbate an already overtaxed network of highways and roads.

Last week, plans for the forthcoming Green Line were announced. The line will connect Tel Aviv to Herzliya in the north and Holon in the south, with stops at Tel Aviv University and municipal business districts. (The plans are subject to public comment, and are pending approval.)

The Tel Aviv light rail project has been a pipe dream of residents and politicians in the coastal city for nearly two decades. Signs around town declaring the start of construction are now comically out of date.

Jerusalem’s light rail system, which opened over budget in the fall of 2011, faced its own set of challenges and controversy, along with hope that it might unite a culturally divided city (a hope that was diminished after riots last summer).

JTA Wire Service

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