Galilee Diary: Tunnel vision

January 5, 2011Rabbi Marc J. Rosenstein

The arid desert shall be glad, the wilderness shall rejoice and shall blossom like a rose. It shall blossom abundantly; it shall also exult and shout. It shall receive the glory of Lebanon, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon... And a highway shall appear there, which shall be called the sacred way. No one impure shall pass along it, but it shall be for His people. No traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
-Isaiah 35: 1-2, 8-9

The past decade has seen a huge expansion and improvement in the highway system in Israel. In addition to the massive Route 6 project, our answer to the Interstate (a toll highway from near Haifa to near Beersheba, with extensions in progress), a number of high-quality new roads have been built between and within cities, with a number of impressive and even graceful bridges. Treacherous intersections of side streets with main roads have been improved with traffic circles or stoplights. Guard-rails have been added on many miles of curves. Here in the Galilee we have been driving through a huge construction site for over a year, as two-lane arteries are expanded to four lanes, and complex intersections are being converted into even more complex interchanges. Large swaths of the west-central Galilee look like a playground for gigantic off-road construction vehicles as they move mountains and pour masses of concrete. Some day it will be finished, probably just in time for it to start needing repairs and improvements, so we'll continue driving through construction until the messiah arrives. What is frustrating about all this is that while it seems that expanding and improving the roads should lead to a reduction in travel time and accidents, it turns out, alas, that expanded and improved roads encourage a corresponding increase in the number of cars, so that the hoped-for reduction in traffic jams and accidents never materializes. So we suffer patiently through annoying construction delays and massive assaults on the environment, sustained by the belief that we will get our just reward - but it tends to be disappointing when it comes. On a brighter note, recently large billboards were erected by the Transportation Ministry, all around the Galilee, marking the route of new rail lines to be laid in the next six years. But then, mysteriously, after a few weeks, the signs were all covered with black tarps. We are trying to understand the significance of this cover-up.

All this curmudgeonly complaining about the wheels of progress falls away, however, when you experience Israel's newest travel experience. A few weeks ago the Mt. Carmel tunnel was opened. The Carmel ridge runs north along the coast, jutting out into the Mediterranean to create Haifa Bay to its east. The city of Haifa is built on the northern end of the ridge - from the top down to the shore. Along the bay is Israel's main heavy industry area, as well as the "krayot," a series of densely populated middle class residential neighborhoods. For the past century, in order to get from Nahariyah or Acco or the krayot southwest, to the road to Tel Aviv, one had to drive around the end of the Mt. Carmel - i.e., through the whole city, easily a 45 minute trip. The obvious solution: to dig a tunnel straight through the ridge. And that's what we (actually, a Chinese tunneling contractor) did. So the 45 minute trip now takes eight minutes. You depart from among the jumble of factories and garages and outlet stores near the oil refineries along the bay, enter the mountain, and then in an instant, there you are in a different landscape entirely, on the beach. It seems so simple and elegant - and yet we actually did it. It's hard to find anything to complain about (well, the toll): it saves fuel and travel time, reduces pollution and congestion, improves the quality of life for Haifa residents as well as for us Galileans, isn't ugly, and didn't destroy any habitats. It was even finished ahead of schedule. Good news is so refreshing.

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary.

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