A poor system of roads existed when Israel was established in 1948; however, very quickly old roads were improved and new roads built, to accommodate the population growth and distribution policy of the government. Today, travelling time between regions is diminishing, and all parts of Israel are accessible within a few hours of surface travel. Of late, road construction has focused on relieving metropolitan congestion, especially in the Tel Aviv area, and improving inter-regional travel. In the future, surface connections with neighboring states may expand, making Israel less of a closed transportation system, perhaps even turning it into a regional intersection joining Mediterranean countries north to south, and connecting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Amman from west to east.
In recent years, the development of public transportation has stagnated. By contrast, the number of motor vehicles has continued to multiply: from 34,000 in 1951 to 70,000 in 1960 (about 74 persons per private car), and from 539,000 in 1980 to 1,015,000 in 1990 (6 persons per car) (Figures 20, 21 and 22). Within the next twenty years, Israel’s motorization rate will reach that of Western nations, and by the year 2025 as many as 3.74 million motor vehicles will circulate on Israel’s roads. Total cumulative travel distance of motor vehicles in Israel, which in 1990 equalled 18.7 billion kilometers, will grow to 30 billion by the turn of the century, and may reach 53 billion kilometers by the year 2025.
The increase in car ownership has not been accompanied by a proportionate increase in road surface. Thus, in 1960 there were 12.2 cars per kilometer of paved road, but in 1990 there were 77 (Figure 23). The growing traffic congestion in the metropolitan areas is a reflection of this ratio. In fact, the recent growth in the population of central Tel Aviv is attributable in part to the problem of traffic congestion on the roads leading into the city. Plans to alleviate the problem include a suburban mass transit system in the Tel Aviv and Haifa metropolitan areas. By 2025, paved road surface will reach 170 million m2 (an increase of 81 million m2 over the 1990 figure), but the gap between the size of the car fleet and the road infrastructure will continue to widen.
Israeli railroads derive 75% of their revenues from the transportation of freight in 1990, 7.3 million tons (although this accounts for no more than 20% of all freight in Israel). Inter-city rail travel grew from 1.5 to nearly 5 million passengers annually between 1950 and 1960. But by the late 1980s rail travel had decreased to only 2.5 million passengers annually. The environment is expected to benefit significantly by increased mass transit by rail: suburban rail systems for the Tel Aviv and Haifa metropolitan areas are in the planning stages.
Passenger travel to and from Israel is almost exclusively by air. International passengers using the country’s main airport, Ben Gurion International, numbered 3.7 million in 1990. By 2025, this figure may reach 9.2 or even 14 million. Plans to expand the airport’s 6 million passenger per year capacity are being developed. The airport’s location is ideal, convenient to both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; however, noise pollution is a problem for the settlements found along approach routes to the airport. This problem is being taken into consideration in the expansion plans. Some international charter flights (2.4% of all international passengers in 1990) bypass Ben Gurion, landing directly in Eilat.
Internal air passenger travel is extremely limited, and continues to decrease: whereas in 1975, 700,000 local passengers flew to destinations within Israel, by 1985 only 200,000 local passengers did so. The two local airports (in Tel Aviv and Herzlia) contribute noise pollution to those metropolitan areas.
The amount of freight passing through Ben Gurion Airport also increased substantially, up 50% in the ten years between 1980 and 1990, when it totalled 194,000 tons. Air freight could equal as much as 674,000 tons by the year 2025.
Israel’s major ports are Ashdod and Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea, and Eilat on the Red Sea. There is also a coal unloading facility at the Hadera power plant site, and several terminals for oil and chemical products.
Freight passing through Israeli ports grew from 11.8 million tons in 1980 to 21.7 million tons in 1990, and is expected to reach between 39 and 60.3 million tons by 2025 at existing ports. The potential environmental danger from oil spills, littering, and accidents with hazardous materials at sea and in port, increases as freight volume increases.