Galilee Diary #557, November 30, 2011
Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain.
In the past few months a major road
construction project in the Galilee was completed after a couple of
years of large-scale (for Israel) earthmoving and concrete-pouring.
Now the two major routes south from our neighborhood - toward Haifa and
toward Tel Aviv - pass, smoothly and quickly, through graceful
interchanges that have already almost erased the memories of the hours
we waited to get through those intersections in the past - as the
intersections themselves have been erased from the map. And across the
Galilee (and the whole country), other large scale road improvements
are underway everywhere you go. These projects seem to be
characterized by an attention to esthetics - soaring arches, stone
facing, clear signing - and by the use of state-of-the-art mechanized
construction methods. For those who are interested in such things, it
is possible to while away the time spent in construction delays and
detours by enjoying watching the process and keeping track of the
progress. As one cruises along Israel's upgraded highways even an
immigrant curmudgeon accustomed to kvetching about the country's
third-world infrastructure has to admit that that particular kvetch has
become obsolete. It seems like every day another treacherous
uncontrolled left turn onto a highway becomes a traffic light or a
traffic circle, another congested intersection is converted to an
interchange, and another two lane country road is expanded to divided
four-lane highway. Route Six, the north-south tollway, has cut travel
time from Shorashim to Jerusalem, for example, from almost three hours
to barely two.
But curmudgeons take heart, we are not as
smart as we look. First of all, as residents of large metropolitan
centers around the world have learned from experience, an unobstructed
commute is in the category of the perpetual motion machine: it exists
in some ideal imagined universe, but is actually not physically
possible. Put another way, no road is ever finished. Sealing,
resurfacing, upgrading, line-painting, guardrail improvement, drainage
work, lighting repair - the guys in fluorescent vests are waiting for
us whenever we get too cocky. Never mind that because Route Six, for
example, has very limited access and high volume, it doesn't take much
of an accident or a security roadblock or a sudden downpour to make
thousands of people late for work.
But wait, there's more: every traffic light that is converted to
an overpass moves the bottleneck a few miles down, to the next traffic
light. And in a few more years of construction delays, when that
intersection too has been buried in concrete pylons, the volume of
traffic will have increased to the point that the whole beautiful
system is clogged and a new bypass route will need to be paved... and
so on. Several years ago I heard a lecture by the Commissioner for
Future Generations about the negative health impact of making travel by
private car more attractive instead of investing in public transport.
He saw this as a core issue for his office in terms of major policy
decisions to be made. Since then, the government decided to unfund the
office of the Commissioner, and that position no longer exists.
A generation ago, kids in school sang this song by the great poet Nathan Alterman (published in 1932):
...We love you, Homeland, with joy, song and hard work... We will plant you and build you; we will make you very beautiful... We will clothe you with a coat of concrete and mortar... The desert - we'll carve a road through it; The swamps - we'll dry them out.