Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz on Thursday slammed the many critics who condemned his decision to prevent construction of a pedestrian bridge in Tel Aviv on Shabbos. Speaking to Reshet Bet, Katz said that “closing the Ayalon highway on Shabbos was no different than closing it during the week. Over the next few months there is plenty of work that will be done on the highway throughout the week, relating to the construction of the Tel Aviv light rail.”
Construction of the planned bridge that is to be built over the Ayalon expressway in Tel Aviv – and that would have entailed construction work for the next six weekends, including on Shabbos – was suspended until further notice, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said Wednesday. Katz declared the announcement by the Tel Aviv Municipality Tuesday that the highway would be closed in either direction for 24 hours beginning on Friday at 6:00 p.m. to allow for the construction of the bridge as “angering and unnecessary.”
The announcement generated sharp criticism from a wide variety of leftist and secular politicians, who accused Katz of “surrendering to chareidi pressure.” Chief among the critics was Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who said that the decision would lead to a “transportation catastrophe” that will “cause terrible harm to Israel,” adding that he planned to petition the High Court that it force the Transportation Ministry to carry out the work on Shabbos, for the benefit of residents and commuters.
But Huldai was being disingenuous, Katz said. The bridge has been on the municipal agenda for over a decade, and “always comes up for discussion before municipal elections. The Tel Aviv mayor undertook a very cynical project here, to pick a fight with the chareidim before the elections. He released that announcement in order to gain political favor among secular constituents, but to accomplish that he is prepared to harm the hundreds of thousands of people who use the Ayalon expressway on weekends. It is my job to evaluate the situation from a professional perspective,” Katz said, and his decision was based on those perspectives, he added. According to Ministry figures, the highway is used on average by some 750,000 drivers during weekdays, with that number falling to 630,000 on weekends, Katz added.
The Yehudit Bridge, which will be dedicated to pedestrians and bikers, is meant to connect the eastern side of Tel Aviv to the rest of the city, with both sides currently bisected by the Ayalon expressway. The bridge would lead to a major mass transit transportation hub that is being built for the Tel Aviv light rail, and an Israel Railways station.