POSTSCRIPT / October 26, 2004 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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North Luzon tollway finished by Christmas

SHAW TRAP: This cannot wait, so we are starting off with this warning to motorists using the EDSA underpass at the Shaw intersection in Mandaluyong. Some thugs are tossing big pieces of concrete from Shaw to vehicles passing underneath!

One recent victim was Michael A. Caparros of Tivoli Greens Village, Quezon City. At around 11 p.m. last Oct. 19, as he was driving southward through the underpass, a piece of concrete slab dropped through his windshield, damaging the car (photo) and fracturing the arm of his wife Rowena.

As it was late and possibly dangerous to stop, he drove on to the nearest hospital on EDSA, the V. Potenciano (formerly the Polymedic) Hospital. There, the security personnel told him his wife was the fourth victim taken to the hospital. (Two weeks ago, Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes was also a victim.) Caparros’ wife was later treated by Dr. Enrique Collantes, an orthopedic surgeon, at Philippine Heart Center in QC.

Caparros said initial investigation showed that the slab was thrown from an old pedestrian overpass frequented by “rugby boys” at the Shaw intersection. On Oct. 22, a person was arrested there for a similar incident resulting in damage to three vehicles.

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WHAT’S THE MOTIVE?: In this EDSA-Shaw incident, the perpetrators made no attempt to rob the victims or to profit materially from their acts. Why then did they do it?

The psychology of the caper hints at some personal and/or social problem. That in turn could be related to more widespread problems having to do with the socio-economic situation in the country or at least in Metro Manila.

While the authorities (we presume) are acting on the area-specific problem — such as rounding up the rugby-sniffing characters, cleaning and lighting up the place, improving police presence — we hope somebody is also looking at the bigger picture.

The incident reminds us of stoning cases in the North Luzon Expressway years ago. But there is a basic difference in motivations.

In the NLEx, some persons positioned at an overpass at night stoned a vehicle passing under them. The damaged vehicle stopped several meters away, whereupon robbers stepped from the dark and robbed the passengers.

That was solved by the fielding of more police patrols in the critical areas and the putting up of tall wire screens at the overpasses so nobody could throw anything from them.

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CHRISTMAS GIFT: Highway robbery and similar incidents would vanish when the modernized North expressway is completed, reportedly before Christmas.

Days ago, we were shown by Ping de Jesus, president/CEO of the Manila North Tollways Corp., the computerized system installed to monitor traffic and road conditions along the 84-kilometer NLEx from Balintawak to Mabalacat, Pampanga.

The MNTC is building the world-class expressway at a cost of $371 million. With the Lopez group (61 percent) in the MNTC are the franchise-holder Philippine National Construction Corp. and two foreign entities.

After the expressway is finished by yearend, the MNTC will take over the maintenance, management and toll-collection. Until then, all collections go to PNCC., the same firm operating the South Luzon Expressway.

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MONITOR BASE: From an array of monitors at their base in Balintawak, managers can see in real time the flow and volume of traffic as captured by TV cameras installed at strategic intervals along the expressway.

The computers’ input provides an actual count of vehicles passing a given point at a given time, enabling managers to redeploy personnel as traffic requires. At present, some 160,000 vehicles use the expressway daily, according to the monitors.

Traffic analysis over a longer period will show patterns as to volume and speed over time that will help MNTC manage the expressway and plan improvements.

Accidents are seen usually as they happen, making possible faster response. The cameras can zoom in and take closer shots of the moving scene.

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QUALITY & SAFETY: Some newly-laid seemingly perfect pavements had been torn up to the surprise of motorists. De Jesus said those lanes had been found to be below design standards. “We won’t compromise quality and safety just to finish the job fast,” he said.

De Jesus said even the new pavement of the viaduct spanning a flood-prone section of the Candaba swamps is being replaced for failing to meet standards set by the MNTC.

But since the Australian contractor building the all-weather road is ahead of schedule, the repaving is not expected to derail the completion by yearend.

While work on the expressway is still in progress, users are already experiencing safer, more relaxed driving on a roadway comparable with the best in the world.

Among the details still being done are the fences, drainage, toll and administrative stations, lane markings and, yes, landscaping.

(As a regular user of the expressway, I wish the authorities would find a way to remove the billboards, to stop the power firms from cutting the poor trees lining the road, and to discipline motorists and litterbugs.)

* * *

QUESTIONS: Some motorists used to tough concrete roads ask why asphalt, which is regarded in this country as inferior, is being used. Asphalt, if we may point out, is the standard material in most advanced countries.

Two asphalt layers — the upper layer finer in aggregates than the one under it — provide a less abrasive, less slippery and a more noise- and shock-absorbent surface. But under the thick asphalt is a thicker slab of reinforced concrete laid out on a dry well-compacted base.

Some Capampangans complain that the expressway tapers in Pampanga into just two lanes on each side when the part nearest Metro Manila has four lanes on each side and the segment from Burol to Sta. Rita in Bulacan has three.

De Jesus, who comes from Bacolor, Pampanga, explained that the number of lanes depends on the present and projected traffic till the franchise runs out in 2030.

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ANSWERS: The Balintawak-Burol segment is widest at eight lanes because this artery carries the brunt of the heaviest traffic to and from the capital. The traffic thins out after Burol and tapers off after Sta. Rita going north.

Oo nga naman. Why build eight lanes in the Pampanga area where traffic thins out most days? Anyway, there is ample provision for space on both sides when bigger volumes will require more lanes. Meantime, why spend for unnecessary lanes?

De Jesus said that the motorists who drive from Balintawak all the way to the end of the tollway at Sta. Inez (which is, like Dau, a barangay of Mabalacat) comprise only 7 percent.

He mentioned this when asked about a plan to raise the toll for the entire Balintawak-Sta. Inez stretch, which is now P41, to P201. That means spending more than P400 to drive two-way. That those hit are only 7 percent of total users is no consolation.

De Jesus tried consoling us by pointing to studies that with the improved road, the savings to be realized from cruising fuel economy, less wear and tear on the tires and engine, not to mention our nerves, will be significant.

The problem is that while fuel economy may be seen from the fuel gauge and mileage readings, reduced wear and tear will not be readily apparent.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 26, 2004)

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