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Jerusalem-Ramallah Rd Gets Major Upgrade

Jerusalem-Ramallah Road Gets First Major Upgrade in 40 Years

While Palestinian leaders negotiate complex issues on the road map to peace, the Palestinian people negotiate potholes on the road to Ramallah. But that is changing.

The main highway connecting the bustling West Bank town of Ramallah to Jerusalem has been neglected for years. It has changed little since the days of British control, and no major repairs have been undertaken to this narrow and badly potholed highway since Jordan resurfaced it before the 1967 war.

For 40 years, no official agency would take charge and repave the derelict highway because of its sensitive location. Just 14 kilometers from Jerusalem, this road runs past an Israeli military checkpoint with 8-meter concrete walls and beside the teeming Qalandiya refugee camp before continuing toward the seat of the Palestinian Authority.

But in summer 2007, after the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allocated nearly $2.5 million to the project, the bulldozers started.

Two narrow lanes are being widened to four, with extra parking strips beside commercial zones to minimize obstructions. Drainage pipes and gutters are being installed. Before the winter rains bring mud and misery, this stretch of road is due to be upgraded and resurfaced and completely. It will link up seamlessly with road projects paid for by German and Malaysian funds for a smooth ride for 2.5 kilometers.

When workers contracted by USAID started ripping up this dreaded bottleneck, most commuters appeared thrilled, even though construction work snarled the traffic even further and the delays frayed drivers' tempers.

"Well, I see the Americans have come to our rescue," said Jamila Salem, a mother of twins waiting at a bus stop on the route. Car owners like her often prefer to take the bus or even a taxi to protect their private vehicles from being damaged by the rutted road.

The notorious potholes in Qalandiya road can fill up with muddy water so deep they can swamp a car bumper. "Some holes could swallow a whole motor scooter if you're not alert," Salem said. "It's been a nightmare for as long as I can remember."

Fixing the road with speed and precision are high priorities for Zahi Gedoon, a structural engineer for the company managing the construction, CH2M HILL. The Palestinian-born engineer is managing the entire project.

"This road serves a million people, so it is very heavily trafficked. The number of cars on the road has tripled and it is the main south-to-north artery for the West Bank," he said. "Obtaining the permits was my biggest challenge, and a close second was managing traffic flow."

"Because of the political situation," he added, "no traffic police are assigned here, so our workers have to direct the traffic. Chaos happens when not all drivers do as they are told. It just takes one, and the rest will follow."

Interrupted when Hamas won Palestinian elections in January 2006, the long-awaited U.S. road-improvement project proceeded after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the Hamas government because of its violent takeover of the Gaza Strip.

The USAID work has created numerous jobs for Palestinians and will help revive economic life in the West Bank where nearly half the people live in poverty and a quarter of the population is unemployed. Because it is engineered for local conditions and extremely heavy use, this road section should last 10 years to 12 years before further resurfacing is required. This thoroughfare is scheduled to be completed at the end of November, much to the relief of commuters.


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