Jerusalem cable car excavation work to begin in next few days

Despite ongoing court case, project director says work will start within 2 weeks to move existing infrastructure; go-ahead already given to uproot trees along route

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Architect's impression of the planned cable car station on Mount Zion. The Dormition Church can be seen to the left. (From plans submitted to the National Planning Council)
Architect's impression of the planned cable car station on Mount Zion. The Dormition Church can be seen to the left. (From plans submitted to the National Planning Council)

Excavation works will start within two weeks to prepare for construction of the controversial cable car planned to connect West Jerusalem with the Old City, even though the High Court has not yet ruled on a petition to scrap the project.

On Thursday, project director Shmulik Tzabari met with stakeholders on Mount Zion to explain that works to move infrastructure would soon commence at the parking lot adjacent to the Shulhan David event hall, which is currently undergoing renovation.

Existing infrastructure such as water, sewage and telecommunications systems will need to be removed.

Also last week, the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA), which is responsible for implementing the cable car project, won approval from the Agriculture Ministry’s Forest Commissioner’s Unit to remove trees along the cable car’s route.

Emek Shaveh, a not-for-profit organization that strives to prevent politicization of archaeology in Israel and has been leading the campaign against the project, appealed through its lawyer to the forest commissioner to freeze any tree-related action until the High Court has ruled.

Architect’s impression of the cable car stop at Mount Zion. (Courtesy Jerusalem Development Authority)

The cable car, for which the government has already budgeted NIS 200 million ($55.2 million), is planned to stretch from the First Station cultural complex in the south of the city to the Old City’s Dung Gate, which is the closest entrance to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most venerated prayer site. Mount Zion will host the only station along the way. A maintenance depot is to be built in the neighborhood of Abu Tor.

The project’s backers insist that this will be a tourist attraction and will help relieve traffic gridlock caused mainly by tour buses.

But the plan’s critics say the cable car will turn Jerusalem’s most precious historic vistas into a theme park. An analysis of traffic data released in July appears to undermine the other major claim made for the cable car — that it will relieve traffic congestion along the Old City walls. The analysis suggests that an increase in shuttles would be a better, faster, and cheaper way of ferrying tourists from southern Jerusalem to the Dung Gate.

Screen capture from a promotional video for the Jerusalem Old City cable car project showing an artist’s impression of cars passing over the Hinnom Valley. (YouTube)

In July, in a last-ditch attempt to stop the project, opponents petitioned the High Court. The court responded by ordering the government and all the other bodies involved to detail the “factual basis” on which the cable car meets the wording of the planning law — whether it really will “serve as a tourist attraction” and “make a real contribution to tourism in the area.”

The government has submitted an 81-page document reiterating its arguments, to which the petitioners may respond by November 22.

The JDA did not answer questions on the matter, but instead issued a statement saying it would “carry out out necessary activities in line with an approved plan and the legal proceedings underway.”

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