Traffic concerns
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - December 7, 2018 - 12:00am

The House finally passed on third and final reading the Traffic Emergency Powers bill that was frozen by former speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. Current Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made good her promise to pass all of President Duterte’s priority bills.

I checked with Sen. Grace Poe on the status of the same measure in the Senate. She said their version is totally different and is in a period of interpellation.

Sen. Grace said their problem from the start was the failure of DOTr to provide a list of specific projects and plans. The senators do not want to give Sec Tugade blanket authority to procure without bidding. She also described as weird the proposal of Sec. Tugade to put cable cars on EDSA.

During interpellation in September last year, Sen. Ralph Recto said emergency powers may not be the solution to the traffic problem. Sen. Recto thinks the problem is more systemic or organizational… government’s lack of planning and lack of technical capability to implement. 

Sen. Grace said she also asked President Duterte if he personally thought he needed the emergency powers. The President, Sen. Grace said, told her he doesn’t care because he can implement measures needed without emergency powers.

Senator Grace said the senators agreed with the President’s view. She also said they don’t want to give Sec Tugade blanket powers to implement projects without proper consultation like what happened with PITX. 

 Assuming Congress finally crafts an emergency powers bill acceptable to all, will it make a difference now?

Before the Duterte administration took office, I was part of a group that met with the then designated transport secretary to figure out what can be done to give the public some relief. We agreed that some amount of emergency powers is necessary to get the bureaucracy moving with one purpose in mind.

To Secretary Art Tugade’s credit, he did try to get some things going even without emergency power to show a difference in traffic flow, particularly in EDSA. But politics and turf protection proved too strong.

In one meeting, we found out that the MMDA and the PNP Highway Patrol Group don’t even share the same radio frequency. How can they coordinate? We also needed to get other agencies involved to move as one. The IACT or Inter Agency Committee on Traffic was organized. That’s where we are today.

Given the political resistance, the idea of passing the emergency powers bill was practically abandoned. I imagine Sec Tugade didn’t mind because it removed one big problem off his plate. But with the passage of the House bill, traffic is now Tugade’s responsibility again.

 Under HB 6425, the DOTr secretary, as “alter ego” of the President, would have emergency powers for three years as traffic chief. He will have jurisdiction over the traffic in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Davao City.

The transport secretary has the power to harmonize and enforce all traffic rules and regulations, implement a unified traffic system throughout each metropolitan area, and carry out priority projects which would have an ”immediate, significant, and measurable impact” on the traffic crisis. That sounds like too much bluster and promise that will deliver nothing much.

For now, we can only hope that the new MMDA chief traffic enforcer in EDSA, said to be a tough disciplinarian, will be able to produce palpable results. After all, a
UP traffic expert did say a few days ago that simple compliance to loading and unloading zones will show a marked improvement in traffic flow.

However, the stark reality of inadequate infrastructure and an ever rising number of vehicles on the road are the biggest problems. I doubt if the emergency traffic powers in the proposed law will let Secretary Tugade have what it takes to fasttrack infra projects to address the problem.

Indeed, Sen. Recto already pointed out that key to alleviating the traffic problems are three major road projects that must be completed: NLEX-SLEX connector road (MPIC); Road connecting to the port (MPIC); and NLEX-SLEX Skyway (San Miguel).

The Harbor road connected to NLEX had been completed. But the two NLEX-SLEX road and skyway projects are ongoing and delayed.

San Miguel’s NLEX-SLEX Skyway is supposed to take out as much as 50 percent of traffic from EDSA. It has been much delayed due to right of way problems.

I just checked and it seems the ROW problems aren’t over. Additionally, there are buildings along the route that prevents the rotation of the big concrete support slabs to their proper position.

Then there are the usual problems with utility lines and poles. It is expensive to move those poles and Meralco is not about to bear the cost. But DPWH insists it doesn’t have the funds too. Unless someone with authority fixes this problem, nothing much will move.

I recall that Ramon Ang told us the project would be delivered by the end of next year. It looks like first quarter 2020 is the more hopeful date.

One good news I heard is that the entire Luzon railway line from north to south will now be Japanese funded. The Chinese were supposed to take care of the line from Manila to Bicol.

Having just the Japanese take care of the entire system makes it simpler to operate. There will be just one point of responsibility specially for maintenance of tracks and rolling stock. I hope this information is correct.

Of course, having more trains run on MRT 3 will be a big help in convincing people with cars to take mass transport. If those Dalian trains can be used, why aren’t they using more of those trains?

If the President thinks he doesn’t need emergency powers because he has enough powers to fix our traffic mess, how come nothing much has happened yet?

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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