More Highways, More Congestion

Investment in transport infrastructure should indicate that an improvement is on the way, but transportation experts in Israel expect the exact opposite.

The budget for land transport infrastructure increased by 67% over the last decade — from NIS 5.9 billion in 2000 to NIS 9.88 billion in 2011.

This increase stands out against the cuts in other investment budgets. Investment in transport infrastructure should indicate that an improvement is on the way, but transportation experts in Israel expect the exact opposite. This is the contention of a new budget document just published by the Adva Center, More Highways, More Congestion, written by economist Adi Sofer.

In international comparison, Israel’s investment in transportation infrastructure is not outstanding in terms of percentage of GDP, the accepted indicator. In recent years it has constituted one percent of GDP, similar to the OECD average.

Despite the large investment (relative to the investment budgets of other government ministries), the Ministry of Transport expects a loss of NIS 25 billion in 2030 due to congestion. The main reason for this prediction is the government’s preference for infrastructure investments that serve car travel over those that serve public transportation. This policy, while easing up some of the pressure on roads in the short run, has resulted in a growing dependence on car travel.

Railroad transport is the most efficient way of travel, especially in metropolitan areas. In comparison with developed countries in the OECD, which allocate approximately 40 percent of their transport investments to railroads –for metropolitan areas as well as inter-city travel – Israel still lags behind. The solution to the problem of congestion in the Gush Dan area is in rail travel.

The preference for car travel is more advantageous for the affluent than for the rest of the population, more advantageous for men than for women, for adults more than for children and teenagers, for young people more than for senior citizens, and for Jews more than for Arabs. As for Arab localities, they are still at the margins of public transport, whether the subject is highways or railroads.

Regarding peripheral areas, the Adva Center report recommends investing in regional public transportation, together with the development of regional employment centers. This is in sharp contrast to the present policy, which places the emphasis on a future of commuting from the periphery to the center and back – a solution that is not only inefficient but also will fail to ease traffic jams or social gaps.