Work to resume on Tel Aviv bridge halted over Shabbat controversy

State Attorney’s Office says construction on Yehudit Bridge to take place next six Saturdays; ultra-Orthodox MK vows to prevent work

An artist's impression of the Yehudit Bridge in Tel Aviv. (NCArchitects)
An artist's impression of the Yehudit Bridge in Tel Aviv. (NCArchitects)

Work will resume this weekend on a pedestrian bridge spanning Tel Aviv’s main highway, the city announced Tuesday, after it was stopped last year following protests by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers opposed to carrying out work on the Jewish day of rest.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz in August ordered construction on the Yehudit Bridge be delayed by six months, prompting the Tel Aviv municipality to file a petition to the High Court of Justice asking for an injunction to allow work to continue.

The work, which would have necessitated closing the busy Ayalon freeway, had been slated to take place over several consecutive Saturdays, in order to minimize the impact on commuters.

Katz insisted he had ordered the construction freeze because he was unhappy with the highway being closed to traffic, but opposition lawmakers and others accused him of only halting the work because of ultra-Orthodox threats.

The announcement from the Tel Aviv municipality came after the State Attorney’s Office told the court work on the bridge will take place over the next six Saturdays.

“I thank Transportation Minister Israel Katz for agreeing to back down and allow construction of the Yehudit Bridge on the weekends as was planned from the get go,” Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai wrote on Facebook, noting the State Attorney’s decision came just days before the court was set to rule on the matter.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz, left, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, inaugurate the model of the new Tel Aviv Light Rail in Tel Aviv on September 13, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Huldai had vocally opposed the decision to delay construction on the bridge and said the government was turning Israel into a theocracy by canceling work during Shabbat.

Following the statement from the Tel Aviv municipality, the Transportation Ministry said the court had in fact ruled in its favor and that work would only take place when construction on electrified train lines in the same area was also taking place.

“In contrast to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s announcement, the three principles determined by Katz will be implemented in full: A six month delay of construction, cancellation of the plan to separately block [the highway] during building of the bridge and carrying out work on the Yehudit Bridge on days of work on the electrification of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train line,” the ministry said.

A lawmaker from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism vowed to try and prevent the work from moving forward.

“If they didn’t really want to carry out work on Shabbat, they wouldn’t. We’ll do everything in our power to prevent work on Shabbat,” MK Uri Maklev was quoted saying by the Haaretz daily.

In the past, ultra-Orthodox coalition members have also worked to block railway work from being carried out on Shabbat, causing disruptions to services when it was moved to weekdays instead.

A worker is seen at the site of the planned Yehudit bridge spanning the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv on August 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Yehudit Bridge will link an area with several office towers, including Google Israel’s office, on the eastern side of the Ayalon Highway to the west of the highway, where most of Tel Aviv’s city center is.

When completed, the bridge will be 110 meters long (360 feet), 18 meters high, and 11 meters wide. It will have a pedestrian and a bicycle lane separated by a central area featuring benches.

The Ayalon, which runs north to south through the eastern part of Tel Aviv, is among the country’s busiest highways.

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