December 26th traveling to North Luzon was a spectacular failure of infrastructure, planning and emergency measures. No one wants to start the New Year pointing fingers but if this is the only way for some entities and individuals to wake up and comprehend the problems that they have caused and think of solutions to them. There is no other way.
I have tried to see silver linings in all of the human suffering and discomfort, disappointment and dismay that about hundreds of thousands traveling in 200,000 or more vehicles went through on what they expected to be the beginning of a long holiday.
In real time, after six hours traversing so-called expressways, paying for them and then being part of a vast parking area, I veered from the madding crowd at Urdaneta on their way to another Calvary to Sison (about 5 to 6 hours more) and dashed off to Calasiao to my favorite restaurant, Dagupeña, which had its usual delicious lunch servings of sizzling bangus, pinakbet, crispy shrimp and sinigang na malaga plus their signature dessert, Queen Sirikit (take note, foodies). Refreshed by lunch and restroom facilities, I stopped at the Calasiao church plaza to buy the famous puto and cuchinta. Then I proceeded to San Fabian (taking the de Venecia Highway to bypass Dagupan traffic) where we bought a masterpiece of a watermelon from the roadside. Then in La Union preparatory to the ride up to Baguio, we bought dried fish. Thus, we were in a better mood to take the two-hour, five-kilometer queue to get into Baguio when we got to its entrance. In retrospect, I think of the bus riders who had no choice but to bear it all (some standing in overloaded buses just to get to their destination), the airplane travelers whose carriers cancelled on them and left them to their own devices. I even thought in my silver lining quest that I was not on that Air Asia flight, in the snow paralysis in France, on the Greek ferry that caught fire, etc. But enough of sliver linings, let us be realistic.
Obviously, the tollway operators were on default mode and never envisioned the avalanche that would hit them. And when it did, they were slow to recognize it and take the necessary emergency measures to mitigate the problem. Everything was left to be what it became, a nightmare ride.
The Northern Luzon Expressway (NLEX) was the best prepared though it was not at its best that day. They have wide and separate toll plazas. They have the EZ Pass which helps a lot. But they still had vehicles accumulating into a helpless crawling army because they did not figure out what the traffic would be and did not take the emergency measures of fielding personnel beyond the tollgates to take payment and speed up the passage.
Entering was a pain, getting out was a 3-kilometer queue of agony. But worse was to come entering SCTEX. Four-kilometer queue to get in, 5-kilometer queue to get out. SCTEX is more than 5 years old, every holiday it fails to give the service for which the users pay. You breeze through the expressway only to lose all the time you saved and more at the tollgates, designed for carabao carts at best, narrow, few and with incompetence in the air.
Take that whoever is in charge whether the Metro Pacific group or BCDA. Sort it out, fight it out, and get real about your service.
The TPLEX is no better. To get through their equally ill-designed, ill-planned toll gates is an ordeal which at the next tollgate becomes more of an ordeal after hours of crawling, wasting time, effort and holiday spirit. They too have to re-think their toll plazas and get competent, efficient personnel who can meet emergencies, mitigate onerous conditions.
The personnel here acted as though it was an ordinary everyday situation as far as they were concerned and to hell with the road users.
Since there was too much indifference, incompetence, unintelligence exhibited that day, I am all for a Senate investigation. Let see them try to pull the wool over our eyes, rationalize their stupidity. We will be ready for them.
And let us not forget the DPWH that mindlessly and merrily (cutting trees, causing traffic snafus resulting in road rage incidents) for the past few years in widening the Manila North Road (MacArthur Highway) to four lanes but not bothering to widen the two lane bridges along the way resulting in funnels that slowed traffic too. This is low IQ, no EQ and just plain stupidity.
Happy New Year!