Tunnel to Be Built Under Nativity Site?

Traffic-clogged Bethlehem eyes passage beneath Nativity Church
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 23, 2014 9:47 AM CST
Tunnel to Be Built Under Nativity Site?
In this Dec. 14, 2014, photo, tourists walk and cars drive past the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank.   (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

O' little town of Bethlehem is dealing with a problem that typically plagues big cities: traffic. Though it claims just 28,000 residents, its small streets make for a traffic nightmare, and the lanes around Nativity Church, which marks the spot where tradition says Jesus was born, are no exception. As a result, the city is toying with the idea of digging a 260-foot-long tunnel under Manger Square, in what would be a two-year, roughly $5 million project. "We think that the solution to this traffic is to build an underground passage between the two sides of the square," a city councilman tells the AP. It's actually one of several tunnels the town would like to see constructed.

The AP sheds a little light on what's behind the traffic woes: As far as urban development goes, it's not a pretty picture. The Palestinian town is sandwiched on three sides by other towns. From the north and southeast, it's hemmed in by Israel's separation barrier and Jewish settlements, leaving it little choice but to build vertically. It's also a main transit point for drivers between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, compounding its congestion. But Bethlehem will need to secure a lot of "yeses" to move forward with its plan: from UNESCO, which has listed the Nativity Church as a World Heritage Site, and from Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian church officials, all of whom have a hand in administering the site. (More Bethlehem stories.)

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