Route 90 and the Israeli Driver
Israel's Backbone has Only Two Lanes
The two-lane road up to the Arava junction used to span 179 km before the Yotvata-Eilat section was widened to 4 lanes. Unfortunately, that took care of only 49 km, leaving us drivers with a full 130 kilometers of the 2-laner. One can only speculate why it was widened only up to Yotvata, one of the richest Kibbutzim in the area. The road continues all the way up to the Lebanese border. It is the longest throughway in the country, totalling 479 km!
Route 90 is undeniably our best scenic route. From the Red Sea through the Arava to the Dead Sea, Jordan Valley, Kinneret, the Hula Valley to the northern border, it follows the amazing Syrian-African Rift, a geological-topographical marvel. This topic is worth a full book, but for now I’ll concentrate on….
Salt, Car Carriers and Hideout Desert Parking Lots
The southern portion of the road is packed-full of double trucks coming to and from the Dead Sea Plants. These trucks are loaded with super-heavy salts to be sent to the Eilat port, and from there to “the world”. That makes them slow in principle, but only in principle. Some truckers have no difficulty shooting ahead and even trying to overtake you when gravity is on their side.
“The world”, on its part, reciprocates by delivering thousands of cars to Eilat. Those are transported to the north and center of the country on the same one and only 2-lane venue.
The cars are first deposited at the Eilat port, but are often later transported to desert “parking lots”, some well hidden from public view. From there, they are hoisted on humongous car carriers, and delivered to the Israeli consumer. [See also: “The miserable lot of the Israeli car“]. The carriers tend to be launched onto the Arava Road 3 or 4 at a time, keeping each other company. That creates huge difficulties for the impatient Israeli driver stuck behind that kind of congregation.
Route 90 and the National DNA
Even one of these carriers is a serious challenge to overtake, but 3 in a row? And more often than not, there is a trail of cars behind them, with the occasional bus and a few “regular” trucks interspersed. How can the Israeli driver stand such an obstruction to the realization of his national DNA?
Well, he often doesn’t. His nervous system, geared for fast movement and stocked with testosterone, cannot stand the situation for too long. [I’m using the masculine here, because more often than not I was the only woman on the road]. Irritatingly, just when the road gets a bit clearer ahead, a solid separation line appears.
The poor Israeli driver is bound to lose whatever little patience he succeeded to master so far and shoots ahead, unhindered, field of vision notwithstanding. That guy is typically the last one in the column, and hence might need to overtake several privates, 2 trucks, a bus and 2 car carriers …To achieve such a feat at one go, he must accelerate at least 20 km/h beyond the normal driving speed. Speed limit on the 90 is a mere 90 km/h with 10 kmh extra universally pardoned. That brings us up to the 130-140 km/h bracket in the good cases.
Preventive Driving and Warm Milk
Six wonderful years of my life were spent in the Arava. I used to travel back and forth from the Kibbutz to Jerusalem every two weeks, alternating between the Egged buses and driving. I became familiar with every curve and stop sign on this road (and the police hideouts…). Still, I could never quite figure out when route 90 would be packed with trucks. It did not seem to follow a regular pattern, though jams were always expected around weekends and holidays.
At one time, when everybody was trying to get to Eilat for Sukkot vacation, I was driving north on a relatively empty lane. Suddently, I perceived a huge object popping up on my lane just a few meters in front of the hood. Before I could figure out if it was a UFO or an Iranian nuke, it artfully veered back into the southbound lane in the absolute nick of time… If ever I was close to a heart attack or to giving up the ghost, that was the occasion.
I’m not sure how I mastered the next few kilometers but, luckily, a rest spot was a bit ahead. When I finally got there, using my reptilian brain, I asked the guy behind the counter if I could just have a cup of warm milk. Coffee or tea would not do. That was very helpful and I was thankful… I still had more than a 150 km to drive.
It Can Get Very Bad
Kibbutz Grofit is the highest settlement in the Arava, built on top of a hill. One day, we witnessed a gruesome frontal accident down on route 90 – four people were killed, including a baby and his parents. We watched the rescue helicopters landing by the roadside.
An accident on route 90 (Source: Walla)
The state does not have enough money or motivation to widen this dangerous road but, instead, posts police cars at various hard-to-detect spots to catch us speeding. This way they shift the blame to the Israeli driver, who is not innocent of course either.
The Greatest Social Equalizer
During my years on route 90, I was stopped for both speeding and not obeying a stop sign when exiting a gas station into an empty road. I was required to take a remedial driving class.
I wrote down the teacher’s main points, trying to be a good student and prepare for the final test. He said we should keep the speed limit even while overtaking and are only allowed to pass one car at a time. I raised my hand and said that this is good elsewhere, but unrealistic on route 90. Even to pass one car carrier, you must accelerate considerably. Additionally, the cars often drive so close to each other behind the trucks, you are sometimes forced to pass more than one. I got a cold stare and a rebuke, but this is the reality.
Everybody does that, most of the time safely, and people who do not pass the trucks make the people down the line anxious and irritable. When the irritation level reaches a peak, they might do something dangerous and irresponsible. Of course, in principle, we should always wait for the road ahead of us to clear entirely, but this can take a very very long time, and after all we are dealing here with Israeli drivers…
Well, good luck to us all, veterans of route 90. Let’s pray the government will one day allot the needed budget for improving its longest highway and some other problematic roads across the country. As bad as we drive, we do not deserve to die at the wheel.
Update: On Nov 11th, 2018, following a series of horrific accidents on route 90 and substantial public clamor, Israel Katz, minister of transportation, reluctantly agreed to order the expansion of route 90. His original knee-jerk reaction was, of course, to blame the drivers, but eventually he gave in. This project is, obviously, less glamorous than, say, the new trains or the southern airport, so it was sitting way down at the bottom of his to-do list.
The remaining question is, of course, is how many more innocent victims the road will take before this feat of infrasctructure engineering will materialize.