“The work started and the sky didn’t fall,” said Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. It was the official imprimatur on the successful groundbreaking of the light rail in the Tel Aviv area on Monday, despite the trepidation of local residents and merchants.
The nightmare traffic jams did not materialize on the first day of a projected two to three years of drilling, dust and disruption along the city’s main arteries. However, some observers cautioned that Monday’s smooth start was likely misleading, as it took place when many are away on vacation and in the middle of a heat wave that was keeping people indoors.
There is reason for anxiety about how the work will affect business, given the experience in Yerushalayim during the construction of the light rail there.
“I can’t get over the 10 years in which they were digging on our street and ruined our lives,” says Kami Malkan, the owner of the clothing store Malkan.
“I’ve been in this store since 1981. We’ve experienced horrific terror attacks on Jaffa Street — suicide bombers and bombs on buses. As if that wasn’t enough, right after the terror bombings came the light rail works, and to me that was also a kind of attack. My livelihood seriously suffered. What should have lasted for several years lasted an entire decade, and we, the business owners, paid the price,” Malkan told Ynet.
Katz sought to reassure local businessesmen who worry about the impending chaos, promising that property values would rise if the work proceeds quickly in the next two to three years.
However, infrastructure work for the Yerushalayim light rail started in 2000 and was scheduled to finish by 2006, but was extended five additional years. Not everyone survived it. Recalls Eli Levy, chairman of the City Center Traders’ Union, “Some 60 percent of the businesses on the street were closed, or their owners abandoned them and rented them out for cheap.”