I was interviewed by ABS-CBN TV Patrol last Wednesday, 23 April 2014, on issues about the controversial reblocking of Edsa last week by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). I was interviewed in my capacity as the executive director of the Citizens Infrastructure Integrity Watchdog or InfraWatch.
The reblocking of the 24-km Edsa was supposed to have started a year ago. However, no less than President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd held it in abeyance because of mounting public protests. The multi-billion rehabilitation of Metro Manila’s longest and most congested thoroughfare came as a complete surprise when it was announced by DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson in early 2013.
The justification given by Mr. Singson was the forthcoming World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2014 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) in 2015. It is most unfortunate that the reason given by the highest official of DPWH was pathetic: if not for the WEF and APEC events in Manila, the country’s most famous and historic highway would not be rehabilitated.
DPWH began tearing down concrete sections of EDSA in January this year. That immediately started the public outcry against the hours of traffic jams that the concreting engendered. The finale was the humungous traffic the reblocking caused on Wednesday and Thursday of Holy Week.
To say that the DPWH was accursed may be an understatement. Many passengers who made bus reservations lost their seats because they arrived late at the bus terminals. There were also road accidents when vehicles hit and bumped each other due to the tight situation of the traffic congestion.
Cracks on Edsa reblocking
The focus of the TV Patrol report of Ms. Carolyn Bonquin of ABS-CBN was on the cracks on the concrete pavement. DPWH Secretary Singson told Ms Bonquin that the thickness of the concrete is correct as per specifications. He blamed the early opening of Edsa to public use for causing the cracks.
Unfortunately, what the favorite Cabinet secretary of President B. S. Aquino 3rd said on television is very misleading to say the least, if not outright prevarications! The correct thickness of concrete does not necessarily mean it will not crack. What matters more than thickness is the compressive strength (psi) of the concrete. Thus, concrete can still crack even if it is twelve inches (12”) thick but does not have the specified strength.
Likewise, why did Secretary Singson agree to have Edsa opened one day earlier than scheduled if it would cause cracks on the concrete. The DPWH top official should not have acquiesced to MMDA’s demand of opening EDSA to traffic last Tuesday if what was really required was a three-day curing period for the concrete to attain it’s designed strength.
It is so pathetic to hear the DPWH Secretary say that the cracks can be repaired by epoxy injections. This is a flagrant admission that he and his people at DPWH (and maybe even his boss, President B. S. Aquno) believe it is all right for road concrete to crack because it can be repaired and fixed with epoxy anyway. This is a wrong attitude that not only breeds mediocrity but also sheer stupidity!
Real issue on reblocking
The real issue on the Edsa reblocking is why it was done in the first place? Based on the careful and measured observations of InfraWatch, 50% of the tearing down and later laying of concrete was not necessary because those stretches of Edsa were still good enough to be repaired and rehabilitated. When North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) was rehabilitated more than ten years ago, the Manila North Tollways Corporation (MNTC) was able to repair and rehabilitate more than 90% of the 85-km expressway without any reblocking. The same is true when the Nichols-Alabang section of the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) was rehabilitated in the late 1990s. No reblocking whatsoever!
What is now worse than the reblocking is that DPWH will pave the new concrete with asphalt overlay. This is insanity at its best or worst! If DPWH will do an asphalt overlay, why did they not just repair the existing concrete that had deteriorated instead of tearing it down and replacing it with new concrete?
No asphalt needed
For the benefit of those who are ignorant of concrete and asphalt matters, such as apparently the DPWH Secretary, new concrete pavement does not need an asphalt overlay. The best proofs are Romulo Highway in Tarlac and Pangasinan and the Bacolod-Silay Highway in Negros Occidental built in the late 1970s. These two highways, built by the South Korean Hanil construction company, lasted for more than 30 years before they were asphalted two-three years ago.
The two main concrete roads of the upscale Ayala Alabang Village in Muntinlupa, Madrigal Avenue and Acacia Avenue, were also built in the late 1970s. After 35 years, no reblocking and no asphalt overlay had to be done.
Even the new concrete road inside the Marine Training Camp in Ternate, Cavite, near the Puerto Azul and Caylabne resorts, has no asphalt overlay. This relatively new road built to American standards by funds from the U.S. Government also has a drainage system that is not usually present in DPWH projects.
As in many projects of the DWPH, the reblocking of Edsa and the asphalt overlay is a sheer waste of scarce and precious public funds. The rehabilitation of Edsa could have been done in a cost-effective manner as early as three years ago in 2011.