THE INSIDE MAN

Highways Galore

Highways Galore image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted June 10, 2009 01:00

Anyone who believes that the 88.58km TPLEx [Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union toll Expressway] should remain a 2-lane single carriageway highway [like the Tipo-SFEx] has not seen the hordes of Manila bound traffic paying toll on weekends on the NLEx Spur-Clark SCTEx toll plaza. The existing 5 toll gates have morphed to 7 and BCDA-TMC, SCTEx owner & operator respectively, are planning to build 6 more gates to ease congestion. This is not surprising as this toll plaza collects traffic coming from Subic in the southwest and from all points north of Tarlac. This should convince the approving authorities and the private sector project proponent of the TPLEx to revise their traffic projections and require that the TPLEx be dual carriageway from the outset. Or if not, go with the BCDA-Japan Bank for International Cooperation proposed dual carriageway toll expressway that was to branch east to a Pacific sea port on Dingalan Bay, serving Nueva Ecija with the main expressway heading North all the way to Poro Point, La Union.

The way things are, the Easter/Summer holidays are already taxing SCTEx capacity now that all 94km of it is open. In fact, as early as now, the volume of SCTEx traffic continuing their journey on the NLEx Dau Toll Plaza has already challenged the projections and assumptions for the NLEx itself when it was still in the pre-loan planning stage ten years ago.

Those 1999 projections for traffic required 4 lanes from Balintawak to Tabang, 3 lanes from Tabang to Sta. Rita, 2 lanes up to Dau and single carriageway from Dau to the Sta. Inez terminus. So far, traffic take up of road space has proved these projections accurate. But with a surge in traffic caused by increased SCTEx patronage, a new traffic survey/study for NLEx may be necessary.

For one, the NLEx Dau toll plaza now operates at maximum toll gate capacity more times of the day and more days of the year ever since the SCTEx opened. Random congestion during peak holiday periods have taxed the NLEx-Spur toll plaza too. It won't be long when the access ramps to and from NLEx to the Spur will be taxed too. This would need widening and smoothing of the radii of the access ramps from Spur to NLEx and from NLEx to Spur.

What may be required sooner rather than later is the main NLEx-SCTEx interchange. Afterall, the Dolores-Clark North-SCTEx Control HQ is just some 3kms north of the Sta. Inez end of the NLEx. Naturally, this would require right of way acquisition, and then completing the Sta. Inez interchange with a toll plaza and roundabouts to assist big truck traffic crossing from Mabalacat to Magalang-Concepcion Road. From Sta. Inez, the NLEX will march north, crossing Sapang Balem and barrio Sinipit and Birria, linking the NLEx terminal toll plaza to the SCTEx Dolores interchange. This will now make the NLEx as long as the 94km long SCTEx. Who knows, the traffic capacity survey study may even reveal that the NLEx Dau to Dolores section should turn dual carriageway. If this NLEx-SCTEx link is constructed, heavy traffic coming from Subic will then dominate the Spur toll plaza while traffic coming from Baguio, Tarlac and all points north will be able to take the NLEx direct at Dolores SCTEx, thereby splitting the capacity of the now overburdened NLEx Spur toll plaza.

Right now, MNTC is busy implementing the NLEx link from Valenzuela to Mindanao Avenue/C-5 and is composed of toll plazas, bridges and a big clover leaf junction projected to be finished in 2010, which should relieve EDSA-Balintawak Cloverleaf.

Down south, the dream-build Skyway from Buendia to Balintawak may still remain a plan, but the 6.88km Skyway from Bicutan to Alabang has begun constructing this first quarter of 2009. Citra Metro Manila Tollway envisage 24 months construction time with a finish date by end 2010.

For stage 1, the plan calls for the 3 lane, dual carriageway Skyway to continue from Bicutan to Sucat, while stage 2 is the Sucat to Alabang descend ramp. As the Skyway approaches Sucat, the Alabang bound lanes reduce to 2, while the westward elevated branch Skyway to the Dr. Santos Ave. Skyway exit remains 2-lanes. Skyway regulars can imagine the Sucat exit as a carbon copy of the Bicutan Exit where the Skyway branches west and a centralized toll plaza collects both the North bound entry and South bound exit.

After Sucat, the 2 lane dual carriageway Skyway heading for Bunye Road, Alabang, widens to 6 lanes on each side to accommodate the Alabang Skyway terminal toll plaza. After the plaza there will be staggered ramps on to both sides to return traffic to the ground level, just off the approach of the gantry that identifies the end of the Skyway system and the beginning of the SLT or South Luzon Tollway franchise portion. Today, this is clearly marked by signs as one approaches the finished medians of the Alabang Viaduct.

When this is all finished, the steel Bicutan temporary ramps that crowd the Bicutan interchange will be taken down restoring the ground level traffic to an unconstricted contiguous 3-lanes without the chicanes caused by the Skyway temp ramps. Stage 2 will also reduce ground level through traffic as Alabang residents going to Makati can take the express Skyway, hoping not be daunted at the Taguig toll gates. Sucat bound motorists will also have a genuine option of either the ground level toll gates at the existing Sucat exit or taking the Skyway to exit on the Westway spur Sucat exit toll gates that will descend further west of Dr. Santos Ave.

Beyond the South Luzon Tollway terminus at Calamba, there are culverts and strata preparation for the Calamba-STAR link. Originally slated for completion by September 2009, the delays in finishing the Viaduct to Calamba obstacle course portions have delayed construction of the revised toll booths, cascading into delays in finally connecting the SLT to the STAR.