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A Magical Moment

President Rodrigo Duterte made a fantastic announcement last week that by the end of the year, “travel from Makati to Cubao will only take 5 minutes.” It created quite a stir and some howled, “no way Jose!” Sen. Panfilo Lacson jumped in the fray with his tongue-in-cheek comment, “he should be president for life if he can pull this off.” Funny!

Short of banning all buses and ordering strict implementation of odd-even license plate scheme and bike lanes every day with more manpower to do direct traffic flow on EDSA, and turning off traffic lights along the way. In other words, there will be no stopping along EDSA. If you believe in magic, then Duterte is your magician. His projections seems devoid of reality.

More to real life situations in Bicol that Naga City and neighboring progressive towns can learn from this perpetual traffic nightmare in Metro Manila. Careful urbanization planning will prevent such scenario from occurring. Naga City’s booming economy is also creating traffic woes to motorists and spilling over to neighboring localities all the way to Calabanga to the north, Rinconada to the east; Milaor, Camaligan, San Fernando, and Minalabac to the west-southwest; and the Partido area in the northeast. These are tourism areas that can suffer from poor traffic management in the Metro.

The advent of multiple malls along major arteries such as Panganiban Drive, commercial development along Magsaysay Avenue, Bagumbayan, Almeda Highway, and Maharlika Highway itself piercing through the city will make traffic worse in these areas due to progress in neighboring towns that the city has no control over. There was a move before during Jesse Robredo’s mayoral helm to create a Metro Naga but never really materialized due to local politics.

With President Duterte’s infrastructure thrust to help develop local economies, perhaps a Metro Naga-Partido-Rinconada now can benefit from the “Build, Build, Build” Program. It’s a great idea worth pursuing but local officials especially those aligned with Vice President Leni Robredo need to set aside politics, swallow their lumps, and pursue what is best for Camarines Sur.

There are many areas needing consideration and not necessarily in the order of significance or importance but needs to be addressed provincially instead of just localized to the affected city or town, for solutions.

First, is flooding. Even for just seasonal torrential rains, Naga City and neighboring towns all the way to the Rinconada area gets flooded and hindering, if not stopping altogether, the traffic flow. There are myriad reasons for this with some caused by natural geography and others manmade.

Storm drains in Naga and neighboring localities are so small that huge downpours will make these drains back up easily because they can only accommodate certain volumes on a given time. One would think that the flood control project along the Bicol River would absorbed much of the water and it should, but storm drains must be big enough to empty the streets more quickly. Note that they eventually clear up hours after the rain stops.

The solution is to install larger drain pipes or culverts along with wider concreted sidewalks. I’m reminded of a story regarding a group of city officials who went to the United States a couple of years ago to study the marvel of American drainage system but shied away upon learning of the enormous cost. Solid waste clogs these drains too but even if citizens will do their part not to litter, still flooding will occur because of poorly engineered storm drains.

The other reason is plain topography. Nabua is perennially flooded because of its lowland location. Water naturally flows from higher to lower elevations by gravity flow. Bombon, Milaor, Camaligan, and other areas are either at sea level that could not push flooded water to the sea because of equilibrium. No amount of hyacinth clearing or storm drainage will solve the problem unless some reengineering is accomplished such as creating a catchment (like a reservoir) where water can rise. The best catchment is one where water naturally flows or can be artificial.

Human folly also contributes to flooding. With the push on infra projects, drainage ditches are being built without much engineering thought to it especially along provincial roads. These drainage ditches are so small they can easily be buried by small soil erosions caused by heavy rainfall allowing rainwater to spill over and impede traffic. Some of these hillsides or elevated roadsides are chopped as part of the clearing thus exposing the soil and making it vulnerable to erosion.

More malls. Malls contribute to the local economy but it also contributes to the traffic problem. Traffic management should be a major consideration in the planning. More bike lanes and wider sidewalks will encourage walking or biking to shorter destinations versus driving. Building malls in already crowded commercial districts will make the traffic situation worse. Space them out.

Better healthcare in neighboring localities. Better healthcare means better facilities, staff, and equipment to lessen the need to go to Naga. The hospital in Paolbo-Belen is a good example. By building the hospital’s capability will not only lessen the traffic flow through Calabanga but also decrease mortality. Many cardiac cases from Tinambac never make it to Naga because of the distance made longer by traffic stops and slowdowns from Calabanga, Bombon, and Magarao.

Housing. Housing cost in the city and in urbanized first class municipalities will rise due to progress and better economies. Towns like Canaman, Magarao, Milaor, and Pili will be beneficiaries of such conditions as cost becomes prohibitive for urban dwellers while giving rise to unbalanced real estate growth and congestion in certain areas. Building a do-it yourself mall close to housing developments make good profit sense; the rise in traffic volume, however, will impede traffic flow along a major artery like the one in Concepcion. Policy makers from these matured economies ought to put their heads together to look at their daytime populations/commuters and how it relates to traffic.

Airport traffic. Everyone realizes the economic bonanza the international airport will bring but it seems the major consideration is more on who has the strongest political patron versus which site contributes to less traffic and makes good business sense. The Pili airport creates traffic choke points in all directions, despite the diversion road.

Finally, solid waste disposal. More people are attracted to Naga for various reasons. More people means more solid waste that the city can no longer handle effectively due to inadequate holding capacities of local landfills. Ineffective solid waste collection lead to clogging of drains and poor health.

The Metro Naga-Partido-Rinconada concept should provide relief to some of these problems by not only finding direct solutions but also developing neighboring economies to act as counter magnets to the city. Economic losses related to traffic is well established and affects everyone. It is pointless for these matured economies to absorb losses without jointly exploring solutions that will benefit them.

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