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On critical government posts related to transportation

The camp of President-elect Duterte has been busy the past week trying to determine, among others, who will be secretary of which agency. As far as I am concerned, my interest is in who will be assigned to agencies that have a lot to do about transportation. Thee include the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Energy (DOE) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). DOTC, of course, is the main agency and has under it several front line agencies like the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) and the Philippine National Railways (PNR).

So far, what we know is that the DOTC portfolio will be given to Arthur Tugade, the former head of the Clark Development Corporation (CDC). Tugade has the confidence of Duterte as they are good friends and were classmates at the San Beda Law School. I’ve met Tugade once when we presented the outcomes and recommendations of a traffic study for a project at the Clark Freeport only a few months ago. The National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman has had a productive relationship with Clark from the time the Center came up with a comprehensive transport and traffic master plan for the free port back in 2010. Tugade has been very productive in expanding businesses at Clark and has been quite an astute figure in his dealings with various political leaders in the region especially with respect to the local governments of Angeles City and Mabalacat. I wish him well at DOTC and hopefully, he can harness its much maligned organic staff like what he has done at CDC. There are so many challenges at DOTC including assigning good people at the LTO and LTFRB.

I hope Duterte retains Sec. Rogelio Singson as head of the DPWH . I had made the observation before that the DPWH is only as good as its head and Singson has been an excellent DPWH Secretary, introducing and institutionalizing many reforms to the agency so much so that it has been performing way above expectations and corruption has been curbed in many areas. In terms of e-governance and open data, the DPWH has been a bright spot in the past administration so much so that its performance in implementing infrastructure projects including those convergence programs with other agencies has made the DOTC look really bad.

As for the other agencies, I can’t think of any names yet as I am not very familiar with Duterte’s inner circle but based on what his camp has already announced, there will be people from the administrations of former Presidents Ramos and Arroyo, a throwback perhaps to the once powerful Lakas party than Duterte’s PDP-Laban. I am anxious to know who will be the next NEDA Director General. NEDA has a big role being the agency consolidating infrastructure plans and projects and the convenor of the very influential Infrastructure Committe (InfraCom) that approves projects for implementation. Very interesting, too, would be the appointee to the position of MMDA Chair. The nation’s capital needs a good administrator with an excellent vision for the megalopolis and the skill set to get things done. Hopefully, we will know who these people will be in the next few days.

Minimum vertical clearance for railway, flyover, bridge and footbridge structures

Further to the discussion in the last post, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) recently came out with a Department Order providing a guide for minimum vertical clearance for railway, flyover, bridge and footbridge structures. A PDF of the DO may be found in the following link:

Department Order_No. 53_ Series of 2016

Of course, the DPWH Department Order No. 53 Series of 2016 may be found and downloaded directly at their website. Here’s a figure from the DO:

DPWH DO 53 s2016

Will a flyover at Katipunan-C.P. Garcia solve the traffic problem in the area?

I read a news article about the proposal by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to construct a left-turn flyover at the intersection of Katipunan Avenue (C5) and C.P. Garcia Avenue in Quezon City.  The flyover is supposed to be for vehicles turning left from the northbound side of Katipunan to C.P. Garcia Ave., which goes through the University of the Philippines Diliman

Will the flyover solve the traffic congestion problem in the area, particularly at the intersection and Katipunan in general? I would say no, it would not solve the congestion problem both for the intersection and for Katipunan. This assessment is due to the following reasons:

  1. The overpass does not address the root cause of congestion in the area, which is trip generation related. There are many major trip generators along Katipunan alone including three major schools (UP, Ateneo and Miriam) and a mall (UP Town Center). Add to this the traffic generated by the high density residential developments along Katipunan (notice the high rise condominiums lining up across Ateneo and Miriam?) and the through traffic coming from various areas that use C5’s Katipunan section.
  2. Congestion is caused by saturated intersections corresponding to Ateneo Gate 3 and main gate of Miriam College. Traffic going in and out of these schools are favored over through traffic along C5 resulting in congestion in the area. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to build overpasses to bypass these intersections.
  3. Congestion is caused by vehicles bound for and coming from the UP Town Center. The congestion due to traffic generated by the commercial development is actually alarming considering it is not yet completed and trips attracted and produced is not yet at full potential.
  4. The heaviest flows at the Katipunan-C.P. Garcia intersection are along Katipunan (northbound and southbound through traffic). Logic and traffic engineering principles point to grade separation to be more appropriate for such traffic and NOT for the left turn movement. A flyover should also be able to bypass UP Town Center as vehicles bound for the mall already blocks traffic along both sides of Katipunan and directly affects the intersection.

I think the DPWH should do well to re-assess their proposal along the lines of the reasons I have listed here rather than continue with the folly of building a left turn overpass alone. UP Diliman should also resist this overpass as, based on the news article, it would mean UP giving up some 8,000 square meters of its property for the project. UP already has given a lot for widening C.P. Garcia but that goes without saying that a through flyover might also require UP to give up property and particularly from its National Science Complex for such a project.

Consultation on EDSA decongestion – September 24, 2015

There will be a public consultation tomorrow entitled “EDSA Decongestion Consultation” at the GT Toyota Auditorium at the Asian Center of the University of the Philippines Diliman from 1:30 – 3:30PM. The consultation will tackle transport and traffic in Metro Manila but particularly along EDSA. The consultation will be facilitated by the TWG headed by Sec. Almendras who is the cabinet secretary put in-charge of addressing (solving?) the traffic mess in Metro Manila. The TWG includes DPWH, DOTC, DTI, MMDA, LTO, LTFRB, and the PNP-HPG.

This would be a good venue for stakeholders to articulate their concerns as well as offer their ideas towards alleviating transport and traffic problems. Invitations are supposed to have been extended to academic institutions, transport groups and other interested parties. Hopefully, this event will be a productive and constructive one. Pointing fingers and playing the blame game will not get us anywhere.

End game: flyover frenzy

The Manila Bulletin featured news on the Japanese government extending a loan to the Philippines for road projects in Metro Manila that include the construction of several major interchanges. An excerpt from the article is as follows:

The Japanese government will be providing some P4 billion to the Philippines for road projects aimed at decongesting monstrous traffic jams in Metro Manila.

Noriaki Niwa, chief representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said the loan will cover major interchanges to address traffic congestion in Metro Manila, including flyovers, and road links.

Among them are the interchanges on EDSA/Roosevelt/Congressional, EDSA/West/North, and C-5/Green Meadows and North/Mindanao Avenue.

“This is to help Metro Manila sustain growth and develop it as an attractive investment destination,” said Niwa.

While these interchanges have been recommended many years ago and are also reiterated in the recent transport roadmap for Mega Manila, one cannot help but make the observation that these projects will not alleviate congestion over the long term. Instead, it will likely encourage more vehicle traffic (with the availability of more road space – part of a vicious cycle).

Other major projects that are ongoing in Metro Manila include the NAIA Expressway, which is an elevated tollway connecting to the Skyway. A friend commented that this is basically a glorified flyover project as I will explain later in this post.

IMG10495-20150401-0636NAIA Expressway construction in full swing – a column rises near NAIA Terminal 3

IMG10498-20150401-0642NAIA Expressway elevated sections nearing completion across from Terminal 3

The term of the current administration concludes next year (2016) and so we are almost in the endgame, to borrow a term from chess. What seems to be a frantic move for the government to build all these flyovers (and elevated tollways) can be interpreted as a way to compensate for the underspending and underachieving ways of the government in putting up the necessary infrastructure to address transport and traffic problems in urban areas. Unfortunately, all the funding (public and private) seems to be going to road projects instead of to mass public transport systems like rail and BRT that should be the priority because these could provide the positive impacts over a longer term than what road projects could deliver in terms of mobility and sustainability.

A friend reminded me of a similar situation back in 1991/92 when government embarked on a slew of flyover projects in an effort to leave a legacy in transport. That administration’s excuse for failing to deliver any mass transit project was that it was transitioning from a dictatorship. However, it also failed to deliver on power projects, which led to the energy crisis that had to be solved quickly (but with costly PPP power plant projects). There is a looming energy crisis now but more worrying is a transport crisis as we continue to procrastinate about public transport infrastructure. Should we be hopeful of transport with the next administration? That is still a big question as of now.

Some questions on a gloomy Saturday morning

On gloomy Saturdays like today, I often tend to sort of contemplate on some questions coming from events and articles the past few days. I don’t really want to answer these questions right now and immediately but would rather let these and the follow-ups play around in my mind. I would rather not do some shout outs on social media about these questions as some friends tend to be sensitive and I don’t really want to make a lot of effort carefully framing posts on FB just so they won’t appear to be offending certain persons who might be over-zealous about their advocacies or who would be so defensive of their organizations. Here are some questions running around in my brain right now:

1. Does DENR have the mandate to require sidewalks and bikeways along all roads? Design and implementation-wise, isn’t this supposed to be under the DPWH (for national roads) and the LGUs (for local roads)? Is this more a policy statement? But then shouldn’t this come from DOTC?

2. Is going out of your way really the way to get noticed and be awarded? Are there no points for people doing a great job at what they are supposed to be doing?

3. Shouldn’t an agency first check if they are doing what they are supposed to do and the outcomes reflect their objectives? Are emissions testings and monitoring successful or do we still have a lot of smoke-belchers on our roads? If they already have their hands full with their tasks according to their mandate, shouldn’t they first mind their business before even encroaching into another agency’s tasks?

4. Does media have to give so much airtime to a driver of a luxury vehicle who assaulted a traffic enforcer?

5. Why does it seem to be so much fuzz about Uber? Is it just on social media? Do most other commuters give a damn about it when they really can’t afford availing such services?

6. Are government engineers bereft of an appreciation for the arts, culture and heritage? Are they too mechanical or dumb to understand what planning and design really is all about?

Repair C6 now!

The existing roads that comprise what has been designated  as Circumferential Road 6 is an important link that serves as an alternate route for people and goods traveling between the eastern towns of Rizal province and Metro Manila to urban centres in Makati (Ayala CBD) and Taguig (Bonifacio Global City) as well as the southern areas of Metro Manila all the way to Laguna and Cavite. During the last dry season or summer, the roads conditions have been quite good such that travellers from Rizal could easily reach BGC or Makati in less than an hour give and take typical congestion during the peak periods.

The situation has significantly worsened since the onset of the wet season as the pavement quickly deteriorated with the combination of heavy rains and heavy vehicles utilising the road. Highway 2000 from Taytay, Rizal was already in bad condition during the summer so it became only worse once the rains came. However, it is the C6 segment from Pasig to Taguig that has deteriorated and is now in a state of disrepair. Following are photos that show how bad the conditions are and which have led to travel times worsening to more than double than what it should be if the roads were in good condition.

10171274_10152311461081889_7569716475256902561_nSection in Taguig along the shores of Laguna de Bay where even large trucks avoid the deep holes along the road. These situations along C6 constrict traffic everyday.

10703562_10152311461566889_6414876550669679017_nC6 section in Pasig City where what used to be asphalt is now a muddy mess.

10635802_10152311462251889_8405359378178629931_nAnother section in Pasig City where C6 passes through a relocation area (Lupang Arenda) where local traffic affects through traffic and C6 is probably at its narrowest.

The section from Pateros to Taguig was built as a road dike protecting these areas from floods brought about by the increasing level of Laguna de Bay during the wet season. While it is basically a secondary road compared to the other circumferential roads, traffic has significantly increased along C6 due to many people discovering that you can travel faster between Rizal and Makati or BGC via this road. Sadly, there seems to be little or no attention given to its current state.

I understand that the DPWH has a process for determining whether a road needs to be repaired and given limited resources, the agency also applies a process for prioritisation of road repairs (i.e., there are many other roads that also need repairs). However, there should be a way to allocate resources for the repairs of the road and this includes involving the LGUs whose constituents benefit from the use of the road. Rizal province and towns and Pasig City should take the initiative to find ways to improve the conditions along C6. It is also in the interest of Taguig to improve this road as many of its residents use it, too. Hopefully, the road will be repaired sooner rather than later and travel times will improve again. Of course, this should be the case whether or not the proposed C6 expressway is realised.

Preventable tragedies

Last Friday, a provincial bus plunged into a ravine somewhere in the Mountain Province. The bus rolled several times  before coming to a stop, instantly killing 14 people. Among the fatalities in this crash is a popular comedian/media personality who went by the name Tado and part of a group doing civic work in the area. Foreign visitors were also killed in the crash, leaving many to wonder if perhaps the Department of Tourism (DOT) should also get into the act as it is in the interest of the department to also establish that “It’s safer in the Philippines!” as part of its “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” tagline.

According to initial reports, the driver lost control due to defective brakes but later one report suggested that the driver had dozed off and awoke too late to bring the bus back in control. The slope of the road was downwards and there was significant curvature. This combination is definitely a challenging one for most drivers, even professionals who, like the bus driver, would probably have encountered such combinations of slope and curvature many times, even on a daily basis along mountain routes. One has to be awake and focused on maneuvering a vehicle for such sections. It didn’t help that probably, and I base this on photos of the section I’ve seen online, the road’s barriers were not up to standard in as far as stopping large vehicles like the bus from falling off and into the ravine.

These are preventable incidents, preventable tragedies that occur on a daily basis around the country. It is clear to many that the LTFRB needs to address these problems by taking steps to insure that public transport vehicles such as provincial buses are properly maintained and drivers are fit and in the best condition to drive these vehicles. To do that, they have to be proactive in evaluating bus, jeepney, UV express, and taxi and other franchises under them. These evaluations should delve into involvements in road crashes as well as the frequencies and types of traffic violations drivers have been involved in. Such records of crashes and violations should form part of a set of criteria to suspend and ultimately revoke franchises of public transport entities.

The LTO also has a responsibility here because they are the agency in-charge of licensing drivers. They should make sure that those applying for professional licenses are indeed qualified and not just to drive any vehicle. Therefore, perhaps there is a need to have different types of licenses for different types of professional drivers. Public utility vehicles differ in size and maneuverability so a different skill set and experience is required for buses compared with taxis. Another type of license should apply for those seeking to drive trucks as well as heavy equipment such as payloaders and bulldozers. The TESDA has certification programs for these that are sought out by people who want to drive professionally abroad. These should also be made as requirements for those seeking to drive professionally here. These would ensure that drivers will be qualified and competent as they are responsible for lives and property.

It is also clear that the DPWH and local authorities in-charge of road safety along roads should look into how to make travel safer by investing more into safety devices such as barriers. Crash or accident prone sections can be identified and sturdier barriers designed to keep vehicles on the road should be constructed/installed in order to prevent such types of fatal crashes (i.e., barriers would not prevent head-on collisions, etc.). That is why the DPWH and local governments need to have capacity and capability to assess road safety along national and local roads. These actions address vulnerabilities. These actions save lives.

What can you do to help in this effort? You don’t have to be part of an organized group or a lobbyist to be involved in promoting road safety. You can be involved in simple ways. Be aware of your rights on the road and your being among those vulnerable to road crashes. I am sure you don’t want to be involved in a crash nor would you like a loved one to get injured or, God forbid, perish in a crash. If your bus, jeepney, UV express or taxi driver drives recklessly, be firm in reminding him of his responsibility. You may enjoy a fast ride but are you sure your destination isn’t the afterlife? Think about it. Act on it. Save lives!