Caught (up) in traffic

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Daily Archives: January 18, 2012

Gapan-San Fernando-Olongapo Road: San Fernando

The Gapan-San Fernando-Olongapo (GSO) Road stretches across 4 provinces in Central Luzon. The road starts from the City of Gapan in Nueva Ecija and passes through the towns of San Isidro and Cabiao before crossing into Pampanga through the towns of Sta. Ana, Arayat, and Mexico, and crossing the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and McArthur Highway along the City of San Fernando. After San Fernando, the road heads west through Bacolor, Sta. Rita, Guagua and Lubao. It exits Pampanga from Lubao and to Bataan via Dinalupihan, and finally to Olongapo City in Zambales. It is also known along major stretches as Jose Abad Santos Avenue.

The GSO used to be the only main route towards Bataan and Zambales from the North-South corridor defined by NLEX and McArthur Highway (also known as the Manila North Road). That was prior to the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), which stretched from Tarlac City in the north and through Concepcion before crossing to Pampanga. The tollway proceeds southwest through Clark (in Mabalacat and Angeles City), the towns of Porac, Floridablanca and eventually crossing into Bataan at Dinalupihan. The SCTEX finally connects to the Subic Freeport Expressway (SFX), which is also known before as the Tipo toll road.

One of the justifications for the Clark-Subic component of the expressway was the need for an alternate route between the industrial centers at Subic, Hermosa, Clark and Tarlac (Luisita?). Unfortunately, the projected rapid developments of those centers were not quite realized and traffic along SCTX remains light for most of the time. Congestion apparently only occurs at the Clark exit where the toll plaza capacity is not enough to accommodate vehicle arrivals. To compound the situation, the national government improved the GSO, increasing its capacity and therefore making this free road a viable alternative to the SCTEX when traveling between Pampanga and Zambales.

Following are photos taken quite recently along the GSO Road and at San Fernando. I will post other photos later, featuring sections along other towns.

Roundabout at the interchange with the NLEX on the west side of the tollway

GSO section leading to what most people think is already San Fernando City proper. The old city center is actually further south along McArthur Highway and is an example of a traditional “bayan” with the municipal/city hall, church and market clustered together.

Overpass along GSO Road over McArthur Highway – prior to the construction of the overpass, traffic junction was the main cause of congestion in the area.

There are actually two overpasses, one beside the other, and each having two lanes and dedicated to one direction of traffic. As can be seen in the photo, there are no shoulders or space for pedestrians. The double yellow also indicates no overtaking along the overpass.

The overpass structure is very similar to those constructed in Malolos, Bulacan and Iloilo City. Similar structures were proposed for a flyover along Quezon Avenue and crossing Araneta Avenue in Quezon City but an underpass is instead being constructed in that area.

After the overpass, travelers pass through an elevated section of the GSO Road. The section was constructed over an embankment that was part of the response on the infrastructure side for disastrous lahar flows of the 1990’s. At the time, many sections of the GSO Road were destroyed by lahar generated by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.

The concrete barriers are quite low and definitely not enough to prevent even a car from taking off from the road (in case of one going out of control) and unto the houses below. The photo above clearly shows how high the carriageway is with respect to the adjacent areas. Notice, too, the narrow strip serving as a shoulder for the road.

8There was significant congestion almost immediately after descending the overpass and along the westbound direction of GSO Road. It took quite a while for us to reach the cause of the congestion – GSO Road’s intersection with Lazatin Boulevard.

The junction is not signalized (no traffic lights) and manned by enforcers who appear to have no formal training in traffic management. I say so since they were applying the “buhos” system of attempting to dissipate queues from each approach (there were 4) without considering that in the process, longer queues were forming along the major road (GSO). Also, it seemed to us that the enforcers were prioritizing traffic along Lazatin when it was obvious that GSO was already congested.

Traffic was practically free-flowing after passing the GSO-Lazatin junction. There were 4 lanes (2 per direction) and sufficient shoulder space on either side of the highway.