05/25/2010 05:57

Plan includes new light rail line, extensions of yet-to-be-completed red line, series of Bus Rapid Transit routes and five new roads.

With residents still fuming over the long-overdue light rail project, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Sunday evening announced the city’s new transportation master plan for the next five years.

The plan, which includes a new light rail line, extensions of the yet-to-be-completed red line, a series of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes and five new roads, is estimated to cost NIS 8 billion.

The city, together with the Transportation Ministry, claim that if the projects are conducted by the state authorities and not handed over to private companies as was the case with the red line, the works will be conducted efficiently and on time.

“Unlike in the past, the city will be responsible for the implementation of the plans,” said Barkat. “We have introduced a series of essential changes in both the planning and the management of the project and sped up the completion of the first line. The future plans, which we designed together with the government, will enable the completion of a high-quality public transportation system that will contribute to the financial growth of the city, upgrade the transportation network and increase the quality of life of the city’s residents as well as its many visitors.”

Transportation Minister Israel Katz noted that “we can write a book on how not to build a railway, but we have learned from past experience how to improve things and will do everything possible to meet the goals. The planed investments in infrastructure over the next five years will transform Jerusalem from being Israel’s capital city to the finance and transportation capital of the state and march it toward an unprecedented era.”

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan director Nadav Meroz explained the city’s transportation vision.

“In April 2011, the red line of the light rail network is scheduled for completion, but we are already working on phase two. As far as the light rail goes, the plan consists of a northern extension of the red line to the Neveh Ya’acov neighborhood, a southern extension to Kiryat Menahem and an inter-campus line connecting the Mount Scopus and Givat Ram campuses of the Hebrew University,” he said.

“We will also be building a new BRT line, called the blue line, extending from Ammunition Hill, through Ramat Eshkol and the Bar-Ilan freeway to the central bus station and later extending to the northwestern neighborhood of Ramot,” he added. “The new route will be dedicated solely to public transportation, and together with the light rail network, will carry roughly half a million passengers every day.”

Meroz also noted that five new roads are scheduled to be built over the next five years, greatly easing movement around the city and reducing rush hour congestion.

Meroz said that to design the future projects, the city had hired the services of French planning firm Egis Rail, which will oversee the designs of a multitude of local and international design companies.

“Overseeing Egis Rail will be our team from the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan, and above everyone will be a steering committee manned by representatives of the city and the Ministry of Transportation,” he said.

Asked why the city was confident that this time, unlike with the red line, the project would run smoothly, Meroz said that the key issue was budgeting.

“Moving over from a Build, Operate, Transfer (BOT) model to a state approved budget makes all the difference. In effect, it gives all the authority to the final user, the city, unlike in the past where we were forced to work with a private company who had interests of its own and perhaps less sensitivity to the needs of the public. We are confident that with us holding the reins, things will be different. In the end it’s all about accountability,” he said.

Meroz said that the planners had learned from the mistakes of the past and would do things differently this time around.

“To begin with, we won’t uncover the roads twice like we did before. Last time we dug up the roads once to remove all the underground pipes and cables and then again for the actual laying of the tracks. This time, we’ll do both at the same time over limited sections,” he said.

“Another major difference will be our focus on public transparency and involvement,” he went on. “This mayor is aware of the difficulties we encountered from the public during construction and is adamant about receiving the public’s feedback before work commences. By doing so, we hope to have most of the issues resolved before we even start work on the ground.

“Also, Barkat decided that we need to give the residents of the city center some time to rest from all the works and all the new routes are outside the heart of the city,” he said.

“Unfortunately I don’t know of a way to do major transportation overhauls without causing some degree of public disturbance,” added Meroz. “Our goal is to keep the disturbance to a minimum. I hope that the upgrade in services will cause the residents to forgive and forget past mistakes.”