A man who obviously loves driving, President Benigno Aquino III frequently alludes to his programs using road-based metaphors: tuwid na daan and walang wang-wang being two memorable mottos of his administration. So we were straining to hear what he had to say during the State of the Nation address about the traffic situation in and around Metro Manila.
It has been hell on wheels for motorists and commuters within Metro Manila. July 4 saw a bus wedged into the Ortigas flyover, with the driver allegedly texting; four days later, fatalities at the Shaw underpass; and scores of other accidents happening during that week. It was enough to send the MetroManila Development Authority (MMDA) officials to seek divine intervention, as well as a slew of new regulations to
discipline bus drivers.
Then there’s the horrendous traffic, omnipresent from dawn to midnight nearly every day. We are where Bangkok was in the late 1990s, before trains and elevated highways helped to relieve the bumper-to-bumper scenery. The reasons for our misery:
• Not enough roads and bridges: There have been only a handful of major roads built within Metro Manila in the past 10 years. Most of these have been connectors, like the Mindanao Avenue entrance-exit to the North Luzon Expressway. These have relieved congestion and cut travel time, for sure, but the endpoints of these roads are still subject to traffic gridlocks.
• Poor quality of roads: Where there are roads, there are potholes. The Department of Public Works and Highways has sworn to build and repair using only high-quality materials and methods. However, recent repairs like those on C5, and screw-ups like the paving over of manhole covers show that there’s still a long way to go in that aspect.
• Insufficient roads and parking structures around major hubs like the airports and LRT stations
• Flooding: Sections of EDSA and SLEx are prone to flooding, slowing down traffic to a crawl or standstill.
• Discipline: It’s not uncommon to see illegally parked vehicles along major roads, such as in Barangay Libis, every single day, with the MMDA apparently powerless to remove these vehicles, despite outpost station being within sight.
• Buses: Provincial, city, half-full, empty: buses are there whether or not they’re needed.
It’s a very real problem not just to motorists, who live and unfortunately breathe here every day, but in terms of the millions of man-hours and tons of pollution pumped into the air as cars, buses and trucks idle in traffic. Tourists stay away from Manila because of the congestion; if we’re lucky, they’ll head to Cebu instead. Fortunately, there is some light at the end of the tunnel (like our dimly lit underpasses)—President Aquino outlined the projects that should help relieve the daily misery of Metro Manila traffic:
• Ninoy Aquino International Airport Expressway: a 7.15-kilometer, four-lane elevated expressway to link the Naia terminals and connect the SLEx Skyway with the Manila-Cavite Toll Road and Roxas Boulevard. This is expected to reduce travel time from Skyway to Naia Terminal 1 from around 24 minutes to 8.2 minutes. Construction will be from January 2014 to December 2015.
— NLEx-SLEx Link Connector Road: a 13.4-kilometer, four-lane elevated expressway to link NLEx and SLEx, using the Philippine National Railways route. Construction is targeted from January 2014 to December 2015.
— Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3: a 14.2-kilometer, six-lane elevated expressway, with eight interchanges and 15 toll plazas, to link NLEx and SLEx, and decongest EDSA. Construction is targeted from 2013 to mid-2015.
— Construction of provincial bus terminals at Trinoma, FTI and Coastal Road to eliminate 7,300 provincial buses currently traveling within Metro Manila. This is just in the feasibility study phase and is expected to be completed by 2016.
— As for provincial roads, the administration has promised to completely pave 31,242 kilometer of the national road network. Temporary bridges and damaged bridges will be replaced, and existing bridges will be widened—117,647 of them.
In other words, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It is likely that these construction projects will bog down traffic while they are ongoing. But at least relief is being planned for, and is actually about to start. (Why previous governments could not, or did not, do any of this, is another subject altogether.)
We can imagine that in 2016, President Aquino himself will climb into a Porsche (or whatever he might fancy at that time), no longer to be criticized for his taste in cars, and zoom off on one of those spanking new highways. So shall we all, we hope.