Pricey new interchange aims to ease central Israel congestion

After years of delays, Route 531 finally hooks up to Coastal Highway and Route 4, giving commuters another way in and out of crowded Tel Aviv area

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Route 531 in central Israel. (Screen capture: Google Street View)
Route 531 in central Israel. (Screen capture: Google Street View)

A new highway set to open in central Israel overnight Monday will allow drivers to zoom from the congested Tel Aviv region to the Trans-Israel Highway without passing a single traffic light.

Route 531, touted as among the most expensive road projects in the country’s history, will link the Route 2 Coastal Highway, which connects cities along Israel’s coast, to Route 6, a toll road that runs from the lower Galilee to the northern Negev.

The 14-kilometer (8.5-mile) freeway includes 11 interchanges and 36 bridges and tunnels. While drivers going northbound on Route 2 will now be able to exit onto Route 531, those traveling southbound will have to wait until next year for the interchange to be completed

The project, 10 years in the making, cost some NIS 4.7 billion ($1.15 billion), twice the original estimate.

A key interchange being opened Monday, linking Route 531 with Route 4, another major north-south highway, has four levels of traffic as well as a rail line through it.

According to a report by the financial news site The Marker, at NIS 1 billion ($270 million), it is the most expensive junction in Israel.

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Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said the new road would have a significant impact on commuters as they cross the country.

“Route 531 is much more than a road. It’s a combined transport system that includes electric rail lines and three new train stations. Hundreds of thousands of drivers who in the past had to cross crowded urban regions will travel quickly and safely on a road that enables traffic flow without traffic lights.”

Route 531 had a troubled history. A tender issued over a decade ago as a public–private partnership was won by the Shapir Group, which proposed a cost of NIS 2.4 billion ($66 million).

However, due to the global credit crisis, the company failed to raise the necessary capital and lost its rights to the tender in 2010, The Marker said.

The project was handed over to the government-controlled NRCI that divided it into four smaller projects, but eventually doubled the cost.

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