Exclusive: Discussions were recently held between the Ministry of Transport and Netivei Israel National Transport Infrastructure Co. on work plans in the coming few years. According to several sources, Minister of Transport Miri Regev banged on the table and asked, “If Dubai can build highways of five and six lanes in each direction in a short time why can’t this be done in Israel?”
Regev’s words were not said in a vacuum, and although it is not possible to widen many of the roads in Israel due to the density of the infrastructure in the country and the ineffectiveness of the move in alleviating the traffic congestion – and even worsening it – the general directive can be translated into actions. Last year, the strategic plan for roads was signed, which is estimated to cost tens of billions of shekels and which should regulate the state’s investments in roads for a decade. This is after in recent decades the State of Israel invested in extending highways and building interchanges, while urban transportation was neglected, public transportation was not taken care of and the crisis began to affect the citizens of the country and the economy with full force.
Regev will examine all the professional work carried out
The strategic plan that has been prepared after four years of work at the Ministry of Transport has not been revealed to the public, but it includes, along with the development of several roads in the periphery and the correction of safety defects on existing roads, more bus lanes. The concern is that Regev will seek to reconsider the professional work that was done (but was signed by her predecessor), and it is already clear that the issue is being targeted the new minister.
The reason the plan was not published previously is so that it wouldn’t be identified with any political figure but rather with the professional level in the Ministries of Transport and Finance, as it is a strategic plan extending over the coming years. However, discussions on the subject of the plan have already been scheduled, and according to sources familiar with the process, Regev intends to advance the five-year plan of Netivei Israel as soon as possible, which may completely change the strategic plan, so that it can become part of the budget discussions.
While Regev pays lip service to the importance of public transport, in practice she hardly promotes it. At least this is what her previous term as Ministry of Transport demonstrated. She focused on such ideas as sea shuttles along the Mediterranean coast that would “bypass the traffic jams,”, and on systems to prevent children from being forgotten in cars, as well as the promotion of a “train on wheels”, a means of transport that has not yet been tried outside of China and lacks relevant standards. Regev also prevented the budgeting of the “Opanidan” project for the construction of bicycle paths in Gush Dan, until all the projects she wanted for the periphery were budget, even though not all of them met the criteria that were set.
Regev has now opened her current term as Minister of Transport with a series of declarations that are far from promoting public transport, such as the examination of the NTAs plans and her lack of belief in the need to build the Tel Aviv Metropolitan area Metro. One of her first steps as minister, a controversial measure that was not supported by the professionals, was to reduce the number of car passengers from three to two (driver plus one) needed to drive on the bus lane on Road 1 (the Tel Aviv – Jerusalem highway). Professional officials believe that this will also slow down public transport, which carries more passengers in this lane than the other two lanes already assigned to cars, and in the long run will also lead to more severe congestion, since this change encourages travel by car.
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An unacceptable policy for a Western country
In any case, these budget discussions will be conducted with the Ministry of Finance, which has been pushing in recent years, after years of underinvestment, to promote public transport projects. This policy is seen clearly in the Economic Arrangements Law passed by the previous government, which included the promotion of the Metro Law, congestion charges for the Greater Tel Aviv with its revenue channeled to public transport, and a new enforcement unit for bus lanes. Changes were also introduced in for higher parking rates in order to discourage use of cars and increase public transport use.
Even in the latest draft of the current Economic Arrangements Bill, there is a clear preference for promoting public transport reforms, such as certification of inspectors for enforcement of bus lane, the establishment of metropolitan transportation authorities, the imposition of travel charges, and within the framework of promoting national projects, a preference for the promotion of public transport projects, toll roads and bus lanes.
Therefore, it is believed that the demand for wide highways “like in Dubai” will be translated into a policy that is no longer acceptable in Western countries, and it may lead to tensions between Regev and the professionals in her ministry, and the other government ministries that will escalate as the discussions on the budget progress. This is not just another confrontation between Regev and ‘officials,’ but a fundamental confrontation over the future of Israeli transport, which is closely related to the economy and the quality of life in the country.
No response was received from Regev’s office.
Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on February 6, 2023.
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.
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