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April 23, 2014 | 23rd Nisan 5774

Country Roads

Galilee Diary #557, November 30, 2011
Marc Rosenstein

Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain.
-Isaiah 40:4

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.

It is no longer included in the curriculum.

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