Keeping DPWH on its feet

On matters of and on the street, it's turning out that current DPWH Secy. Mark Villar is as efficient and transparent as his template-setting predecessor, Secy. Rogelio Singson, who in turn probably outdid the previous standard setter, Secy. Vigilar of the ERAP era. We hope he keeps us the momentum and hurries along the C-5 links to CAVITEx/Skyway/Luzon Ave. NLEx Segment 8.2, access roads to NLEx metro link connector and Harbor Link to R10 North Harbor, and most critically, the PUP interchange and common alignment at Segment 2 of Skyway Stage 3. This last is proving to be the trickiest as it overlaps with another cross-metro expressway, also by Citra. Citra, soon to become a regional infrastructure giant operating 1,098.0 kms of tollways [from 444.0 kms today], is proposing the 17.7km PHP50B MTEx [Manila-Taguig Expwy] starting at R2 road in Manila, hugging the San Juan River and connecting with MME-C-6 [Metro Manila Expwy], also by Citra, east of Pateros. Not to be outdone, Metro Pacific Tollways, which also runs and builds tollways in Thailand and Vietnam, already proposed the C-5 Expwy from Libis to NLEx Segment 8.2 at Luzon Ave.

Confused in the city and abused in Pasig City

After getting rid of those tire shredding yellow concrete wedge dividers on EDSA, MMDA has returned to address the UVRRP; it postponed the reactivation of the 900AM-400PM coding window to July 2017, while maintaining the 800PM coding extension. Pointing to a slight but genuine improvement in traffic flow, during the 2016 holiday rush [crawl more like it], MMDA feels justified that EDSA's over capacity 7,500 veh/hour was reduced to its real time capacity of 6,500 veh./hour. More restrictions on coding exemptions, parking zones and increased hiring of traffic enforcers continue as MMDA wishes to avoid more restrictive measures such as congestion charging, ODD/EVEN and 2-consecutive-day ban/coding [proposed during Chairman Tolentino's tenure at MMDA] that may further agitate the riding/driving/motoring Public or cause them to buy more cars. Moreover, we wonder if Pasig City's oppressive application of both ODD/EVEN and Coding on major National roads sought the approval of the MMDA considering that their unilateral traffic restrictions make life extremely difficult for non-Pasig residents who have a right to transit through the National Roads in Pasig.

Getting stuck on zipper lanes 

We could feel the frustration of Chairman Orbos when the end January trial for the Cubao-Poveda zipper lane for Makati/SB [southbound] morning rush hour traffic failed resulting in record traffic jams for EDSA NB [northbound]. The problem lay with the blockage of the Ortigas flyover west bound. By blocking this route, vehicles piled up on the at-grade EDSA Ortigas junction, backing up traffic all the way to Magallanes.

Metro driving: The past, present and future

Build a bridge to bridge the gap

To solve this problem, we proposed to MMDA Chairman Orbos, through our colleague, CNN Service Road Anchor, Mr. James Deakin, that MMDA fill the gap between the two EDSA flyovers with a pre-fab steel bridge. This gap filler will serve as the re-entry cut out for the zipper lane, thus keeping the Ortigas west bound flyover open to traffic. This pre-fab bridge need not take long to fabricate. What will take time is the foundation for the additional bridge columns for the pre-fab steel bridge. These columns will only take up the space away from at-grade Ortigas traffic since the bridge span itself can be counterweighted or cantilevered.

Sticking to the numbers

We respect the preference of Chairman Orbos and also Senator Poe, to avoid electronic congestion charging like Singapore's Electronic Road Pricing until the government provides alternative mass transit that works and more importantly, can accommodate more passengers. But we feel that the adherence to a steady 6,500 veh/hour or EDSA capacity flow is not the end all and be all because this flow can still be breached even without the 900hrs – 1500hrs window. Moreover, marginal utility and behavioral economic dictates that people are bound to buy an extra car if the ban prevents them one whole day [coding without window] but this need diminishes if there is a window. A whole day ban is more restrictive than selective hours of the day ban.

We thirst for a window

Which is why we reiterate that the window be reactivated but in order to achieve greater traffic flow easing, use the banned hours – 700AM to 900AM in the morning, 400PM to 800PM in the evening to increase vehicle throughput and flow by requiring either ODD/EVEN bans dictated by calendar date OR the Francis Tolentino 2-day consecutive ban which is a bit harder to enforce. Doing the numbers means the recognition of wave theory and harnessing it to work to better traffic flow.

Metro driving: The past, present and future

The wave theory in traffic congestion

Wave theory was recognized by traffic planners in Texas and England many years ago. Some MMDA planners during the era of Chairman Fernando were familiar with this concept. This theory postulates that a motorway or freeway with many evenly spaced exits/entries, will manifest reaching its full capacity by a rhythm of long stops alternating with brief periods of bursts of speed. This was first monitored on London's M-1 Motorway, between Brent Cross and Nottingham, being Britain's oldest and most congested. To break the monotony and to restore flow without long stationary periods and bursts of speed, the Police tried several relief measures. One was to allow traffic on the hard shoulder as an extra lane between certain exits. The other was to do counterflows, essentially what zipper lanes do. Odd/even bans at select hours of the day also work along the same principle of providing relief until the thrombosis is cleared. Which is why we champion this over an all day no window ban. The 13 hour ban caused by the closure of the window just promotes a steady descent into thrombosis and will end up in the long stop-short burst rhythm of the wave theory anyway.

Vertex and the NAIAx effect

Now that Vertex infrastructure's NAIAx, the pride of accomplishment of the Pnoy administration PPP is up and running, major realignments of traffic flows of the south and south west metro commuters are in effect and should be studied continuously. NAIAx has provided by-pass relief for many “Southies” or resident commuters from the south. Office hoppers, like the ones I know who spend mornings in BGC and late afternoons in Intramuros claim unheard of commute times in minutes at 1500hrs on a Baclaran Wednesday. Elsewhere, some bottlenecks were either reduced or shifted to other junctions as the 4-airport skyway works its magic. To this day, the novelty of the LED array of parapet lights [in lieu of lampposts] along the Skyway sections under the aircraft landing path of the NAIA runways never cease to amuse dash-cam recording motorists that post their nocturnal journeys on the Internet. Cruising the winding NAIAx recently in a 545bhp Nissan GTR, it was most relaxing at the 60km/h speed limit as it eerily reminded us of the early skyways to the now defunct Kai Tak airport of Kowloon, Hong Kong or the older Tokyo elevated expressways built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Though it may be moot and academic by the time you read this, the traffic managers of the at-grade construction zone of NAIAx to Skyway should tidy up the pavement as motorists cannot tell which surface is free to pass and which is impassable with all the junk and pot-holes of construction. Is EEI [them again?] the contractor in charge of traffic on this section?

Ayala's MCX

The first Pnoy era PPP and Ayala Infrastructure's first tollway project, the MCX has shown the steep learning curve taken by the venerable real estate company. Having taken over some carriageways paved by DPWH through the New Bilibid reserve grounds, Ayala initially finished the highway to standards last seen when STAR tollway was a stillborn “flagship” project. But it was quick to upgrade to QCR receipts, LED mast illumination, some asphalt overlay and safety yellow incident rescue trucks, by Isuzu, an Ayala automotive subsidiary. What's next? Volkswagen patrol cars since Honda isn't too keen for a Honda police car image [except in Thailand when no one says no to the King]. KTM chase bikes might be redundant as MCX is all 2 kms long. MCX invested in ETC twice as it prepared for the continuance of E-PASS only to be supeceded by AutoSweep RFID stickers. Cruising through this very short expressway one cannot deny feeling bombarded by all the green colored commercial ads, except the sign that says not to heed hitch-hikers who shouldn't be there in the first place. Is the Vazbilt perimeter fence that easily breached or mounted? Amusingly, the MCX toll plaza roof was wrapped [a la Cristo?] in tarpaulin printed with all the words that begin with the letter “A”. Cute.

Class 2 ban, Skyway Toll Plaza B returns

South tollways is instituting a ban on Class 2 vehicles without the AutoSweep RFID on the elevated Skyway. We suppose SOMCO is trying to avoid long cash paying queues of 22 wheeler trucks crowding on the narrow toll plazas of the elevated. We wonder how this would work once Skyway Stage 3 is up and running as many cross metro truckers and buses would be taking the elevated all the way from Balintawak to Alabang and many will likely not have RFID, despite it being free. And to finally reduce the toll paying queue that stretches down to Alabang viaduct North Bound, Skyway toll plaza B by the NAIA runway path is now being rebuilt to collect toll payment. This would mean that the Alabang elevated toll plaza will only serve as pass-through obstacle. Might SOMCO tear it down?

Metro driving: The past, present and future

Skyway Stage 3, segment 2

If there is any fly in the ointment of the smooth progress of Skyway Stage 3, it is segment 2, the Plaza Dilao to SM Centerpoint Araneta Ave. portion that hasn't budged much. Road Right of Way acquisition problems is forcing Citra Central Expressway to consider diversions like incorporating a spur expressway to run along Citra's own proposed MTEx [Manila Taguig Expressway] that will align with the San Juan River, without sacrificing the PUP interchange which is the connection to the Metro-link NLEx connector. Problem: Since this means Citra will build on the San Juan River, just like the way NAIAx was built on Tripa de Gallina, it will need the approval of DENR Secy. Lopez who can be quite anal on such matters. This will be the cause of the delay in the completion of Stage 3 as the rest of segments 1, 3 and 4 are moving along. Again, EEI, the contractor for the A. Bonifacio section has to improve its traffic management as the traffic queues stretch up to 6.0kms long, well up to Smart Connect cloverleaf on some mornings. Unfortunately, this is not the only fly in the ointment.

More bad news 

To catch up with the 40 year backlog of infrastructure, government wants to raise taxes of fuel while cutting income tax. The latter, is very generous and nice to the ear, but when you put it through numbers, the tax cut will only benefit half of the wage earners, while the fuel price increase hits ALL the citizens, not only with dearer fuel, but an across the board price hike of a whole slew of consumer goods. Raising the tax on cars will end up killing half the auto industry resulting in more job losses and laying waste the past painstaking 20 years to build our auto industry to where it is. The fall in sales due to high taxes, will erode tax collections which will seriously underfund the infrastructure the government wants to build.

Holdover mentalities

On inauguration, this government promised to abide by all contracts, international and domestic. Unfortunately, the TRB or Toll Regulatory Board seems to still be operating under the populist vote gathering orders of the previous administration. Remember 5 years ago when government convinced San Miguel Infrastructure to complete STAR Tollway into a full 2x2 carriageway road up to the Tabang, Batangas City toll barrier? Well, San Miguel did so in less than 2 years and added a full repave of STAR tollway to boot. But to this day, TRB has not approved the adjustment in toll charges. The new government gave the go to Metro Pacific Tollways to expand the lanes of NLEx from Sta. Rita to San Fernando and From Dau to Sta. Inez. Now that it is almost finished, TRB sits on its hands and keeps mum on the contracted toll charge increase. This is on top of the pending toll adjustments stymied by TRB and which International Arbitration ruled in favor of Metro Pac Tollways. Perhaps SEC wouldn't mind if San Miguel, in service to its shareholders, already file for arbitration against the TRB for failing to adjust, for some 3 years now, the toll charges for STAR tollway.

Metro driving: The past, present and future

Still bumbling at the LTO

It would seem that change hasn't come to the LTO as the bumbling work-shy penalty-fine-happy bureaucrats haven't been purged. They've tightened on the “no-release-no-OR/CR” rule by slapping a 10,000 Peso fine on any car owner who drives away from the dealer without the OR/CR, which, as always is interminably delayed by who else, but the LTO itself. To address their failure to deliver license plates, many of which were already paid three years ago, they've now imposed on the dealers to issue temporary plates, which, copies the conduction sticker, which is already prominently stuck on the windshield. Not being content with the inconvenience they've caused the public, they've now decided to design their own temporary plate, to be issued by the dealer at dealer expense. But their design of the temporary plate contradicts all the rules that makes a sign legible and quickly readable, filling it to the margins like a legal document. Quite like those road side DPWH tarpaulins that announce a road project with at least a thousand words in fine print. Imagine, including a 30 digit MV-file number and double ID's of the dealer and of course the obvious “Temporary Plate”. And yet they can't even make it as nice and simple as the Swiss style temp plates issued by Volvo or the JDM plates issued by Mazda.

The Extra-Judicial Way

While the previous government was transparent in how it favored its allies and how it arbitrarily discarded signed contract conditions with impunity, its becoming apparent that this government is also enamored to taking its liberties with the law, in a so-called Extra Judicial way. On the basis of an impassioned environmentalist's biased judgement, it is willing to close 23 mines and lose 1.2M, jobs thinking that a paltry PHP2.0B can tide them over and a promise to substitute eco-tourism will make things right and address the moans and claims of the other villagers. The same DENR did not bother to take the side of the mining workers and the mines itself. It appears that the DENR didn't even follow the rule book and just went ahead to close the mines based on an airborne ocular inspection and a couple of bull sessions in the local town halls. Just like overtaxing the auto industry by disregarding the tax reform of 2003. The high taxes may fund an efficient mass transit system but at the cost of so many lost jobs and factory/dealer closures. This government should learn a lesson from the errors of the previous administration, particularly when it refused to pay the Belgian company that dredged Pasig River and was contracted to dredge the foreshore of Laguna de Bay. Claiming that Laguna de Bay will be silted again after 2 years since the lakeshore residents treat it as their communal lavatory, it cancelled the contract. After a few years in arbitration, the government lost the case and the current government will now have to pay damages.

A pleasant [speed] blast from the past

Right now, the trip to my neck of the woods has been greatly relieved. Much of the Sta. Rita-Candaba Viaduct-San Fernando route is nearing completion to partial illumination and full 3x3 carriageway, though the dotted lines need better alignment. The Balem interchange connecting NLEx and SCTEx has been greatly rationalized and will receive more improvements as traffic patterns are settled. The Mabiga interchange on the SCTEx will soon lose the U-turn slot and in its place will be a couple of lane realignments. The Sta. Inez interchange is due to be restored to a full trumpet junction as the Magalang bound off ramp, which was “lost” in the PNCC turnover to First Holdings in 2005, is restored. Balintawak toll plaza is expanding. Meycauayan, Libtong and Polo will get much needed exits. But best of all is the completion of Balem-Sta. Inez into full 2x2 carriageway, now complete with headlight glare reducing guard rails. It brings back pleasant memories of an impromptu race on the 2-way west side carriageway, just before an inaugural pass through by President Marcos's MAN bus on his way to Ilocos in 1983. By racing ahead of the PSG presidential security forward recce, a two-tone copper “Motown” 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass 250hp V-8 455 driven by a black stogie smoking US serviceman entering at San Fernando ended up racing all the way up to Sta. Inez with a white 1976 Mercedes Benz 110hp 230.4 - driven by me.