Interior Minister Deri backs Tel Aviv metro
29 October 2020 - globes
"The transport crisis in Israel is very real, and the metro is of supreme importance in the range of solutions to this crisis."
Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri is standing by the Planning Administration and the senior planning professionals in the controversy over the metro project in Tel Aviv. "The process of planning the metro and the areas of its stations must continue full steam ahead. The transport crisis in Israel is very real, and the metro is of supreme importance in the range of solutions to this crisis," Deri said yesterday, following a session of the National Planning and Building Commission on the huge infrastructure project, at the end of which it was decided to continue moving ahead with the project and to publish an announcement of certain restrictions on building permits in areas surrounding the metro stations, because of planning measures being introduced in these areas.
Minister of Transport Miri Regev astonished many people this week when she declared at the "Globes" Real Estate Conference that she opposed the project, and that she intended to allocate budgets intended for the metro to the development of transport projects that would connect the center of Israel to its outlying regions.
Yesterday's session of the National Planning and Building Commission in the Ministry of the Interior was arranged before Regev's speech. The council decided to publish an announcement under sections 77 and 78 of the Planning and Building Law concerning a national outline plan for the areas around the Tel Aviv metro system. This announcement, accompanied by maps, forbids the issue of building permits for projects in the environs of 32 of the planned 109 metro stations, which means the freezing of construction in the designated areas for years.
"This is the costliest, most complicated, and most important transport project in the country's history," Deri said, commenting on the decision. "The metro network, in which vast resources have been invested, will serve millions of citizens, will advance the economy, and will lead Israel into a new era."
Mordechai Cohen, director general of the Ministry of the Interior and the head of the National Planning and Building Commission said, "The process of planning the metro network must be carried out alongside high-quality, correct urban planning. Only thus will we be able to exploit the land efficiently and construct a mass transit system that will be a major tool of economic, social and environmental development. We shall continue to work energetically to strengthen Israeli society."
The battle over the Tel Aviv Metro
Miri Regev compares the Metro, which is an investment with high returns, with railways to Eilat and Kiryat Shmona, which would have little economic impact.
Minister of Transport Miri Regev's comments at the "Globes" Real estate Conference on Monday that she plans halting the Tel Aviv Metro project has stirred up a storm. After saying that the Metro would cost NIS 150 billion on top of the NIS 60 billion that the Tel Aviv light rail is costing and the NIS 600 million for cycle paths in Gush Dan, Regev said that she is against going ahead with the project.
Regev said that she preferred spending NIS 100 billion on building railways from Hadera to Kiryat Shmona in the north and Dimona to Eilat in the south. "It will be for passengers by day and cargo at night. It will take trucks off the highways and lead to the construction of factories in the south and the north. When we check out these plans compared with putting all the budget into the Metro, when we are already investing in the light rail and for bicycles, I think we also need to invest in connecting up the rest of the State of Israel."
Among the wave of reactions to Regev's remarks, former Minister of Transport Bezalel Smotrich said, "The attempt to present this versus investment in outlying regions is cheap populism that reflects a lack of understanding. Firstly, the Metro will also serve residents of outlying regions traveling to the center. In addition, it can be financed by the private sector in contrast to transport projects like the railway to Eilat. Investment in outlying regions is important but there is no connection between that and the Metro."
Regev hit back at Smotrich. "It would be worthwhile for the former Minister of Transport to know the figures. The cost of the project is NIS 150 billion with NIS 80 billion coming from the state budget."
The budget figures that Regev tweeted in her response to Smotrich are correct. The cost of building three Metro lines extending over 146 kilometers and 109 stations is NIS 150 billion - 60% for the civil engineering and infrastructure work and 40% for the rolling stock.
Regev is also right about the financing model with the private sector and the State sharing the costs almost evenly.
But where Regev is wrong is that the Metro is an investment. When completed the Metro will contribute an estimated NIS 26-34 billion annually to Israel's economy - in other words the investment would be returned with five years.
Regev's claim that transport infrastructures bring economic development and growth is not groundless. Road 6, the Cross-Israel Highway, is a successful example. However, the NIS 100 billion that Regev proposes investing in railways to Kiryat Shmona and Eilat would yield zero returns, certainly in the first years. This is an insane investment in relation to the size of the populations that would benefit from it. It has been previously claimed that for the money the Eilat railway would cost it would be possible to buy every resident of the Red Sea resort a luxury car.
Regev prefers that Tel Aviv would remain one of the only major metropolitan areas in the world without an underground railway while Eilat would become the world's smallest city with a 250 kilometers per hour fast rail link.
Regev did not invent the idea. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Katz when he was Transport Minister spoke for years about an Eilat railway financed by the Chinese. But once the Chinese made it clear that they would charge a high interest for building the railway, talking about the plan became empty rhetoric.
The normalization agreement with the UAE gives a new significance to the Eilat railway option, but Katz's plan to extend the Haifa- Beit Shean railway line eastwards into Jordan is a much cheaper plan.
Ultimately what is more important - the 3.5 million residents of Gush Dan or the 80,000 residents of Eilat and the Arava.
Regev claims that the three light rail lines are enough even though she admits that central Israel is becoming more and more congested. The question still remains as to whether the Metro is the right solution. As it happens Smotrich told "Globes" in May before ending his term as Minister of Transport that were he staying on he would re-examine the viability of the project. He said, "We have to be sure that we are rushing to imitate what the Europeans did 100 years ago. Today there are other solutions."
But the Metro is much more than a means of transport. Its decisive advantage is its ability to convey vast numbers of people, many more than the light railway, underground with minimum disruption from the traffic above. The State can use the Metro to leverage unprecedented large-scale construction near the stations. This means the center of the country will become more crowded with high-rise buildings and won't spread to the outlying regions.
The Ministry of Finance claims that the Metro is worth half a trillion shekels to the State through preventing jams, shortening journey times, environmental advantages, and increasing economic activity. The issue of the Metro is something that can affect the entire complexion of Israel for many years to come.