It's good for the ballot

As a vote getter, the recent long weekend holidays have shown that the more roads you build, the more traffic you attract and rightly or wrongly, the more votes you get. Again, rightly or wrongly, that's not a bad tact to pursue if the nation's leader wants to leave a solid and lasting legacy. After all, all that frenzy of mass crucifixion of corrupt public officials and political enemies is only as good as the next headline.

Southern comfort

History tells us that it will always be the new roads along the old beaten paths that will face the biggest influx. Witness what happened at the Ayala toll plaza at Sto. Tomas SLEx Manila Bound. There, toll paying queues reached 5-kilometers long, making a detour to the old National Road and rejoining the SLEx at Calamba worth the trip down memory lane. Never mind if Calamba toll plaza itself faced 1.0km long queues, Manila bound. SLEx is noteworthy because on the outbound journeys at the beginning of the long holidays, Calamba Toll Plaza hardly ever exceeds 2-kilometer-long queues. CAVITEx and Skyway deal with long toll payment queues on a daily basis as these two expressways are closer to the urban center and are therefore integral to the daily urban peak hour traffic and thus do not suffer large swings in outgoing/incoming traffic volume during long weekends.

Popular means crowded

Up North, the surprise was the enhanced 'popularity' of NLEx Segment 8, where Mindanao Avenue Toll Plaza is located. There, long queues occurred partly caused by pavement concreting but mainly because of outbound traffic avoiding EDSA concrete blocking, Cubao bus terminals and Balintawak snap bus terminals. This popularity is also because C-5 is becoming a true EDSA alternative. In fact, and because of the 24/7 truck ban on EDSA, C-5 has become the late night truck route cutting across the Metro.

Good in the details

C-5 is not one of the easiest routes to design and build.  half the width of EDSA, but since it doesn't have bus routes, C-5 during rush hour has traffic as slow as the EDSA Ayala to Megamall crawl from the narrow Bagoong Ilog flyover transition up to the Eastwood U-turn and the road width transition at de la Estrada Church. Then the rest of C-5 snakes and twists through existing multi-lane avenues that feed to bedroom communities. The U-turn at UP Balara/Katipunan made good use of space and has safe sight angles. Ditto for the rotunda that leads to Ayala Heights.

The good parts

The Commonwealth flyover is finally usable for both directions of traffic and the flea market, trash dump and tricycle mega terminal has been banished from the Luzon Avenue side. Concrete barriers mark the transition that curves away from the unfinished narrow end of Luzon Avenue to Congressional Avenue From there, one has to follow the green signs that point to NLEx and thankfully they are mounted on median masts high enough from damage and theft. There are well lit U-turns at this segment and traffic lights are gratefully LED.

The difficult part

It's Mindanao Avenue that needs improvement. The U-turns are not that well lit and the advance warnings are not far advanced enough, leading to new users of C-5 to get trapped in the U-turn merging lane. These need engineering like the channelizing done to the UP-Balara U-turn at Katipunan Avenue or if the location is too narrow, more barriers and adjustment of lane markings. As it is, the 16 wheeler trucks that are veteran users of this route have skillfully learned to snake their juggernauts across all the lanes of Mindanao Avenue to avoid traffic bunch-ups at U-turn slots in the middle and curbside Jeepney stops. Overall, these constrictions keep speeds low but steady and in toto, C-5's segments with stop-go crawls like Cubao and the approaches of Guadalupe on EDSA are shorter. C-5's main disadvantage to EDSA during the rainy season is that its Pasig length is prone to flash floods. Still, it's a good workable alternative but needs patience, practice and study to navigate smoothly.

New roads, new destinations, new excuses

Further up north, the opening of the TPLEx no doubt increased traffic at the SCTEx temporary terminal toll plaza at San Miguel. Since the TPLEx isn't fully finished, major adjustments to exit and entry routes that connect to Tarlac-Sta. Rosa highway and SCTEx have to be done along with clear signage. TPLEx, though built by seasoned construction outfits by concessionaire PIDC, are, understandably, new to tollway operations and management; i.e. it's not conclusive that if one can build an expressway well, one can run it just as well much as it's a whole different ball game, requiring different skill sets. San Miguel's financial muscle can be well spent buying such O&M experience by learning from the its neighbors, Metro Tollways, the seasoned operators of SCTEx. PPP and DOTC should point to this as an example as to why it is necessary they go through proposals with a fine tooth comb resulting in long delays and postponements. PPP/DOTC never fail to emphasize on proven track record of utility operations and maintenance.

What is he waiting for?

As for the heavy incoming and outgoing traffic along the NLEx between Bocaue and San Fernando, plans to widen those segments to 3x3 carriageway are gathering dust, as well as expansion plans for SLEx, STAR and CAVITEx as TRB has yet to see the wisdom of acting on toll hike petitions of all the tollways. And how about the long traffic queues as NLEx Dau plaza and SCTEx Mabalacat plaza? Well, if only the President approves the long delayed NLEx-SCTEx integration, those 2 bottlenecks will dissolve. Yes, this will move the toll paying queues to Tarlac SCTEx terminus and Bocaue Toll plaza, Manila bound, but it will still be a big help to motorists who exit to intermediate destinations along the two integrating tollways.

Oh say, Can't they see?

Closer to the heart of the city, now getting into thick of final quarter traffic, the am/pm closure of the EDSA Buendia U-turn has improved traffic flow south bound EDSA but only during the first hour of the rush hour. Traffic streaming from the Ayala tunnel now come to a dead stop at the exit of the tunnel and not at the entry. Naturally, this gets worse as the rush hour peaks. This proves that closing the EDSA Buendia U-turn, just moved the Fort and Kalayaan bound U-turn traffic to Ayala, worsening the traffic pile up on the Magallanes bound side of EDSA approaching the Ayala tunnel.

We're not hopeful

We wonder if the solution lies in preventing buses coming from Ayala flyover to cross merge from 7 lanes to 3, into the bus stop at the Forbes Park curb to allow passengers to access the Buendia MRT station. But to do that means giving passengers of these buses stopping at MRT Buendia an alternative by forcing buses to crowd the grade level of EDSA-Ayala and to wait for the traffic light to allow a left turn into EDSA, Guadalupe bound. This is worth studying, but in the meantime, the traffic situation at EDSA Buendia, Guadalupe bound, has not improved, while EDSA Ayala, Magallanes bound, is greatly aggravated. That is what the U-turn closure achieved.