Erap's man, Former DPWH Secretary Vigilar was right. Much as we love Kennon Road, it cannot be an all weather route. Not for anyone's fault, as 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 form the Cordilleras.
In fairness, Col. Lyman Kennon did not have as many scientific tools in 1900 when he started surveying the donkey pack 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 constantly changed 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 ocean winds making all those clouds at mile high elevation create the mystical Baguio fog that makes for so many romantic moments and nocturnal horror stories.
Ladle it on!
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, the Japanese aid agency, 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, it's not Kennon.
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.
From market town to resort city to market town again
But Baguio is no longer just a 6 months of the year resort city. Though historically, Baguio started as the market town next to the resort town of La Trinidad. It has, over the past 40 years, developed to become the hub of economic activity of the Cordilleras. Beginning as a casino destination, pre-1990 earthquake, Baguio nevertheless deserves all weather access. There are options. If one really wants an all weather road to Baguio and not give DOF Sec. CVPurisima nightmares looking for funds for it, we should invite foreign investors to propose a new Kennon Road. It's not an impossibility as critical mountain expressways in Japan, and yes, even Switzerland have built them. Soaring expressways crossing valleys with villages 1,600m below and tunnels burrowing 20kms through the heart 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.
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. 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.
We can go further and widen the remit of the PPP roadshow 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 Ambuclao? High costs are expected, but for so long as we allow the foreign investor a reasonable rate of return, they, and Baguio's fans, can dream.