JerusalemIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The city of Jerusalem has approved a major traffic project aimed at easing congestion at the entrance to the city and helping residents of southern neighborhoods reach Tel Aviv faster. The plan has some local residents up in arms over expected damage to the Jerusalem Forest.

The project would see new roads built from the Har Nof and Yefe Nof neighborhoods. The roads would travel under the two neighborhoods, then meet in the Jerusalem Forest and connect to Route 1.

Environmental protection groups say the new road would cause major damage to the Jerusalem Forest. Several groups are planning a protest Tuesday morning near the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, in coordination with local residents.

Ofek Birnholtz, head of the Jerusalem chapter of the Green Movement Party, linked the planned rally to the massive social protests last summer. “Different parts of Israeli society united last summer in a joint call for social justice, trying to mend the world and create a better environment for all of us. The Jerusalem Forest is shared and enjoyed by secular people from Beit Hakerem and by hareidim from Har Nof, by new immigrants and native Israelis – and together we are demonstrating to save our forest,” he said.

“We call on the government and municipal authorities, in these hard economic times, not to waste 1.5 billion shekels of scarce public money on a road for privately owned cars – taking away a public forest belonging to all of us in favor of a select few – but rather to invest in transportation solutions serving the wide and diverse Jerusalem society,” he continued. Birnholtz suggested that in place of a new highway, the city add public transportation lanes, add buses to existing lines, and create shuttle lines to the city entrances.

City officials have suggested conducting a study to see if environmental activists’ fears are founded. However, activists fear that if the plan is not frozen now, by the time a study can be completed it will be too late to make changes.