What's in store for 'Build-Build-Build' for the North?
For those who are biding their time, gnashing their teeth waiting for the day in 2022 when the Davao take over of Imperial Manila is finally over, they can at least look forward to all the Build Build Build projects that will blossom on their watch and take credit for while the Davao dotard goes his merry, profane and invective strewn way in his more welcoming surroundings.
Island hopping by road in the South
At least, by then, they would not be accused of Imperial Manila always neglecting the Viz-Min [Visayas-Mindanao] road network and force feeding to half of the country that the RoRo Nautical highway network is all they need. When finished, the DPWH spine highway and suspension bridge or underwater road tunnel network connecting the principal islands of Viz-Min will put to shame the network of Oresund like bridges spanning Denmark, Norway and Sweden or to take from our master-neighbor China - the network of bridges linking Guangzhou, Macao, Zhuhai and Hong Kong. And by then, the hopefully more environmentally compliant and conscious resort islands in Boracay, Panglao, Siargao, Siquijor, Mactan and Coron Bay are up and thriving.
One more grand Build-build-build
So before all this Build-build-build goes away as the Yellow Morality’s worse nightmare, we would like to pitch one more big project. We need not touch on presently pursued unsolicited proposals like all those tollways in Bicol, Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon; Metro Pac Tollways, San Miguel Infrastructure and even ECO-Toll of R-11 Builders are keeping the flames of interest burning. Our project is for the North. No, not the Rosario to Pagudpud tollway, as that is a done deal for so long as the Danding Cojuangco and Ramon S. Ang tandem control San Miguel. We refer to an all weather alpine like tollway to Baguio City.
Kennon Road; tough love
Former DPWH Secretary Vigilar was right. Much as we love Kennon Road, it cannot be an all weather route. Not for anyone's fault. It's all due to our country's location in the Tropics and the way the earth's tectonic plates created the soil composition and rock formation that forms the Cordilleras. And the Cordilleras are the wettest part of the country bar none.
Awful climate, awful terrain
In fairness, Col. Lyman Kennon did not have as many scientific tools in 1900. After all, Kennon Road was a donkey trail with 8 camps. With four-legged animal freighters, it was easy to maneuver to another route, every time a landslide, forest fire or flash flood erased a previous trail. All throughout Kennon Road's existence, it has changes in alignment, every time Nature decides to make engineers conform to its whims. Scientists tell us it is geologically unstable. It doesn't matter. Even if it was stable, the weather, keeps changing owing to the confluence of cool mountain air, warm sea winds making all those clouds at mile high elevation that makes the Baguio fog so enchanting to Igorots and lowlanders alike.
Still, the government ladled money on Kennon making it safer and a bit more durable. Kennon Road has been widened in areas providing overtaking space for light vehicles wherever smoky and crawling buses and trucks tend to stall. Some areas have been armored in concrete to limit erosion damage and landslides.
But if we seriously want to make an all-weather road to Baguio, there are options. For its money's worth, JICA decided to fund Marcos Highway instead as it is indeed more geologically stable. Yes, Marcos Highway does get its annual dose of wash outs in some two to three critical sections, but that's the weather's fault, not its geological composition. It is scenic too, but in a different manner. To Romantics and sentimentalists, its not Kennon. There is only one Kennon Road.
The Swiss challenge
Case in point: rich Switzerland has plenty of alpine roads leading to ski resort cities, resort cities that are only open 6 months of the year when, ironically, the snow comes. Every year, unusual weather like heavy rain or avalanches caused by excess snow, shuts down these alpine highways. And just like our DPWH crews, they first clear the blockage, patch up a temporary passage and when the weather improves, plot another road alignment to avoid the new change in topography. This is routine for the DPWH ever since it took charge of Kennon Road.
Not just a resort city anymore
But Baguio is no longer just a 6 months of the year resort city. It has been the hub of economic activity of the Cordilleras. So it deserves all weather access. There are options. If one really wants an all weather road to Baguio and not give DOF Secy. Dominguez nightmares looking for funds for it, then the government should encourage or include a new Kennon Road in “Build-Build-Build”. It’s not an impossibility as critical mountain expressways in Italy, Japan, the Basque country in Spain and Switzerland have built them. Soaring expressways crossing valleys with villages 1,600m below, tunnels burrowing through 20kms of mountains. These expressways are protected from wind, snow, ice and landslides. They are designed so that trucks can take the incline at ease and the curves are as wide as any expressway on the plains.
The Skyway 3 and NAIAx lead
But this all weather road will take away the romance of narrow, bumpy and winding Kennon Road – a small price to pay for having that all important all weather access. Put to a study, this road may well be a Skyway with the pillar foundations embedded on the Bued River, the way NAIAx and Skyway Stage 3 divert to rivers to avoid costly RROW acquisition. It will be just as scenic without the drama of blind curves and vehicles stalling when failing to make the steep climb. If it takes the river's path, DPWH would not need to fund any right or way acquisition, though I wonder what the DENR and environmentalists would say.
Baguio ring road and other new roads
We can go further and widen the remit of the Build-Build-Build to include all other paths along other parts of the Cordilleras. Perhaps a brand new route from between Nueva Vizcaya and Pangasinan, between Kennon and Ambuklao? Perhaps the completion of Baguio’s ring road into expressway standards so commercial traffic need not go through CBD. That will cost, but for so long as we allow investors a reasonable rate of return, they, and Baguio's fans can dream.
The new traffic dilemma
In the meantime, fans of Baguio City are caught in the vise of a dilemma. As the journey is eased by combined expressways - NLEx-SCTEx-TPLEx- Baguio City itself is reeling from CBD congestion. Parking demand on high season triples existing parking spaces, counting both legal and illegal. As early as 1999 Baguio City’s traffic planners wanted to build pay parking buildings in CBD but it seems that there are two major no-noes’ to Baguio voters that virtually guarantee electoral defeat: allowing Casino’s and ending free on street parking in the CBD. Because of this shortage and pass through commercial traffic that needs to transit through CBD, traffic can be so bad causing traffic queues to start as far as the Kennon Road Black Mountain toll gate before the Zig-Zag. That queue can take an hour and a half before one gets to the Baguio Gen Hospital rotunda. Indeed, all the time one saved by zipping through the Central plains tollways, compared to a 60% [by distance] journey on slow moving Manila North Road [MacArthur Highway], is lost in the Kennon Road delay.
More places to go to
Lastly, it would not be difficult to apply the Environmental revolution going on in Boracay to clean up Baguio if only the LGU’s take the initiative and co-opt the DENR into drastic hygiene and ecological measures. Baguio retains the charms of a small city - a new artisanal restaurant, a new crafts store, a new craft beer brewery, a new art gallery, a new BnB etc. is always worth the journey. And perhaps, just maybe, perhaps, the current administration’s dislike for “oligarchs” will be papered over as the main beneficiary of a quicker highway and cleaner city is the newest township on the City limit’s edge along the Ambuklao Highway. Baguio Highlands combines the sense of community of Tagaytay highlands, the variety of experiences of Balesin island in the unique perch of overseeing the highest of Baguio city’s scenic and vertiginous promontories. Perhaps being a project and dream come true of a man named Roberto V. Ongpin shouldn’t be a problem anymore.