A new entrance to Jerusalem, Route 16, opened Wednesday and is expected to significantly ease traffic, providing speedy travel between Route 1 and the city’s southern neighborhoods.
Inaugurated on Wednesday by government officials, the six-kilometer (3.7 mile) section connects motorists from Route 1 — the main highway connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv — directly into the Givat Mordechai neighborhood.
The road, consisting of four tunnels and seven bridges, also includes 50,000 acres of newly landscaped territory featuring bike paths, walking paths, picnic areas and observation points overlooking the Jerusalem hills.
“We must do everything so that this road will eventually serve as many public transportation vehicles as possible, so that as many people as possible can get to and from our capital,” Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli said at the inauguration ceremony on Wednesday.
“Israel will never give up on its capital nor on its security… this road, this new path, joins a path we cannot abandon, a path of security and peace that we all need,” she said.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said the road represents a “transportation revolution” for the capital.
Lion praised the new road as “an important step in making entering Jerusalem simpler and faster,” as well as working to considerably reduce traffic congestion in the western parts of the city. He also echoed comments by Michaeli on encouraging the use of public transportation, citing a future project for a “park and ride” lot for private vehicles near the new road that will connect to future light rail lines.
But critics of the project argue that Route 16 will not solve Jerusalem’s traffic problems, and in fact may make things worse.
“Adding a highway can divert traffic from one place to another, and in the case of Route 16, instead of vehicles coming from the west… they will enter and travel to the southwest of the city,” Professor Galit Cohen-Blankshtain told Globes.
She said that building new highways only encourages more people to become road users, adding congestion rather than easing it.
The project, which broke ground in 2019 and is estimated to have cost NIS 1.5 billion ($450 million), was completed one year ahead of schedule due to accelerated works carried out during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nissim Peretz, CEO of Israel’s National Transport Infrastructure Company, said “The new Route 16 project was one of the most challenging engineering projects ever completed in Israel.
“I hope that the road will reduce traffic to the city and its surrounding areas. This is a festive day for residents of the city and those visiting it,” Peretz said.
Israel’s largest bus company, Egged, announced Wednesday that it would launch a new line running between south Jerusalem and central Tel Aviv.
Beginning in Talpiot, the line will travel via Hebron Road through the new Route 16 tunnels to join Route 1, before terminating at Tel Aviv’s Savidor train station.
The line, number 490, will run every 20 minutes during peak times and every 30 minutes throughout the rest of the day. Services are slated to begin on September 11.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.