Road conditions to the North


HERE is a report on road conditions going north of Manila as personally experienced. The Easter holidays are coming and for anyone thinking of going up north, may this be helpful.

I left Manila at 3:30pm on Feb 19, a holiday. Thus, EDSA traffic was relatively light and the North Expressway was carrying on very well. So, were SCTEX and TPLEX. There were no crowds to speak of or unusually heavy traffic. Or, if there was, the highways handled it well including entry and exit points, so it was smooth and fast. I arrived at my house in Baguio before 7:30 p.m. making it a door-to-door four -hour trip. Very restful, satisfactory and pleasing. But the true test will be at the Easter holidays.

A day later I drove to Sagada from Baguio. The Halsema Highway is in tiptop shape and we proceeded smoothly and quickly arriving at the turn-off to Sagada. But before that we had to take a detour into a valley where a bridge was being repaired, or replaced. In cases like a detour, it would be proper for DPWH to make the detour road a temporarily asphalted or graded road so it does not turn into a rough-riding session as though one is competing in a rodeo.

But the Sagada road was a disappointment. Three years ago it was started and as of today it is not done. Yes, most of it is there, cemented and wide but interspersed are many parts that are not done and one has to shift from cement to dust on both sides resulting in one way traffic stalls causing much impatience from drivers, who then start to cut corners, such as parking right in front of oncoming traffic that makes the road even narrower.

Worse, the work is so sloppy that cemented and finished lanes do not have barriers to indicate ravines and prevent drivers from taking too wide an arc and falling off. It will not take recklessness to dive into the ravine, just a little carelessness or a moment of lack of alertness. This is definitely dangerous. There are no signs to warn motorists and just all that space down there waiting for those who make a mistake.

Our goal was to drive to Ilocos from the Mountain Province by taking the Cervantes Road south of Sagada after an overnight’s stay there. Here we passed Tadian and Cervantes where roadwork was going on. It was going on in the usual sloppy government contractors’ way – piles of rubble from the dug up old road on the shoulders, plus the usual inexplicable stretches of unfinished road between the finished parts. If these were just a few occurrences, one could forget them after maneuvering by if uncomfortably. But if there are too many such parts, it does become quite a drudgery and a cause to demand why are government road contractors allowed to be so inefficient and sloppy. Or, is it the DPWH itself that is doing the road?

Fortunately, after leaving the Mountain province and coming into Ilocos Sur the road was in good shape without rubble along the sides, complete with the necessary barriers, signage, etc. It was done, complete and acceptably so.

We passed by the famous bridge that was inaugurated only last year and took 20 years to build as the President announced when he inaugurated it. It does cross a wide river but it could not have been rocket science to build it. Anyway, it is there to pass on, to admire and to breathe a sigh of relief that it was done.

This part of the road has beauttiful scenery, mountainous with stands of pine trees thickly covering the sides. It is an old trading trail now widened into a highway from the Mountain Province to Ilocos Sur just outside Tagudin on the coast. It encompasses Bessang Pass, the WWII battlesite between Japanese forces and Philippine Army Units supported by US air, artillery and infantry units, the turning point of the WWII battle in the Cordilleras which precipitated the Japanese surrender. We should celebrate that victory rather than the defeats that we seem to dwell on.

There is a simple and dignified monument commemorating the battle which lasted from January to June 1945 with a historical marker describing the battle and those who participated.

There is not much traffic and quite beautiful scenery on this road which is very well built and scenic without the usual detritus and garbage that contractors are wont to leave behind. Or, inappropriate decorations. More of that later.

From Bessang Pass to Currimao was a passage through roadworks again. They are not numerous but there are one-way traffic occasions that try one’s patience. Considering the time and money lost in gas and peoples’ schedules, it would be a service to create a decent temporary detour so that the work can go on faster without traffic and the motorists could continue without interruption. An investment in temporary detours that are comfortable will, if the contractors are up to par, make them finish the roadwork more quickly and hopefully more satisfactorily.

The real question is why are road contractors so slow and so untidy?

And when they want to be decorative, why do they choose to do it the wrong way? All over the Cordilleras the DPWH has decided to use blue and orange paint on stones and walls. In Baguio the corner of Outlook Drive and South Drive has a mess of blue and orange stones individually painted and supposed to be beautiful additions to the roadsides. They are not. Stones should be left in their natural state and not painted. They have even done this horrible paint job to one wall of Mansion House as well as all over the Halsema Highway.

This is unnatural and therefore, anti-environmental.

Why not plant flowers and plants instead, landscape those areas the natural way?

From Currimao to Baguio, the Naguilian Road stands out for being newly asphalted and such a treat to drive through. Asphalt is really more comfortable to drive on.

Baguio had its usual traffic snags as there are too many vehicles, too many people, too many attractions like PMA Week, Panabenga, a Chinese New Year Parade. One does not want to be a Grinch but we can’t close our eyes to the discomfort and aggravation that happens in these instances. I had to abort my trip to the market on the afternoon of the Chinese New Year parade as traffic was paralyzed from Leonard Wood on to downtown.

And coming back to Manila on EDSA Revolution Commemoration was the nightmare it promised to be. It took four hours from my house to the end of the North Expressway. Then two and a half hours to bring my friend to her home in a Roxas Boulevard condominium and another hour to get home. It took three and half hours to maneuver in Manila with EDSA partially closed. There were no real alternative routes that worked but there were the usual underachieving traffic enforcers.

Shouldn’t we re-think how the EDSA Revolution should be commemorated without turning the city upside down and giving our long-suffering urban commuters more stress?


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