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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Rising population, weak decongestion policy lead to worsening Metro traffic

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The opening of certain private schools in San Juan is causing a gridlock along the northbound stretch of EDSA that intersects Ortigas Avenue in Quezon City. For two straight days, the logjam at the intersection created a two-kilometer traffic as all types of vehicles occupied at least three lanes of EDSA, jostling against each other before turning right to Ortigas Avenue.

Such is the current state of traffic on EDSA, the busiest thoroughfare in Metro Manila. A growing population, the lack of mass transportation system and wide roads, and the continuous migration of workers from the provinces have created the perfect storm that is causing mayhem in the whole of the capital region.

The traffic situation in the metropolis may get worse even before it improves. Vehicle sales in the first seven months of 2023 jumped 31 percent to 239,501 units from 182,687 units a year-on-year. Assuming 50 percent of those new vehicles ply Metro Manila’s roads, the current logjam is light to moderate, as the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority likes to report to motorists.

Rising automotive sales in the Philippines, as I’ve written before, are a harbinger of further economic growth. They indicate the increasing disposable income of consumers and their optimism on the prospects of the economy. Increased car sales can also mean that consumers may purchase other large-ticket items in the near future, like housing-and-lot packages.

Growing car sales, however, will shrink the road system, especially in Metro Manila―and worsen the traffic jam in urban centers in the absence of new or expanded thoroughfares.

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A study published by the Asian Development Bank way back in 2012―Transport Sector Assessment, Strategy, and Road Map―noted that while some of the principal road corridors in Metro Manila had high capacities, traffic volumes were also extremely high.

“As a result, the movement of people, goods, and services is becoming increasingly difficult. Although restrictions on vehicle usage are in place, their effectiveness is decreasing as rates of motorization increase; consequently, congestion in Metro Manila is increasing rapidly and is estimated to cause economic losses equivalent to about 4.6% of GDP,” said the ADB paper.

That ADB study was made 11 years ago. Much has happened since 2012—the pandemic years included. One would think that the government might have already crafted a decongestion policy to solve the traffic mess in the National Capital Region. But the government is far from implementing one.

It is, in fact, doing the opposite. Take the case of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. A consortium composed of six of the country’s biggest conglomerates has offered an unsolicited proposal to modernize NAIA and make at par with modern airports in Asia. With the makeover, the consortium assured NAIA would have the ability to serve up to 70 million passengers a year efficiently, or more than double its current capacity.

More logjams

But will a modern NAIA with a much bigger passenger capacity not contribute to the traffic logjam in Metro Manila? The traffic gridlock in Metro Manila is worsening with the onset of the rainy season. Even without a heavy downpour, traffic in the metropolis is bad. This proposal should have been dismissed from the outset, unless it offered to address the traffic problem it will create.

An upgraded and bigger NAIA that can accommodate more air travelers will aggravate Metro Manila’s gridlock. Expanding Clark International Airport in Pampanga, instead, seems to be a more logical choice. It decongests traffic in the capital region, especially if it incorporates a railway component. Modern urban centers in the world build and design their airports with a rail link to improve the accessibility of passengers to downtown areas or, in some cases, suburbs or distant cities.

Building a satellite city just outside Metro Manila, meanwhile, makes better sense. Businessman Manuel Villar, chairman of Vista Land & Lifescapes Inc., and former House speaker and Senate president, is a step ahead in the plan to decongest Metro Manila.

His group is masterplanning Villar City as the next central business district in Metro Manila. The satellite city seeks to improve traffic south of Metro Manila as Villar City spans 15 cities.

For Mr. Villar, the only way to improve the traffic situation and the quality of life in the capital region is through decongestion. His satellite city aims create jobs away from the gridlock. He says there were too many errors with the development of urban areas in the past, which the Villar City aims to rectify.

Spanning 3,500 hectares across 14 cities and towns in Metro Manila and portions of Cavite, Villar City will create a new center of growth and development. Villar says the masterplanned Villar City will be composed of self-sustaining districts or urban centers, such as a modern central business district, a tech valley and a university town, among others.

Mr. Villar’s family recently led the opening of Villar Avenue, a 6.2-kilometer road that will serve as the main artery of Villar City. The road seeks to seamlessly connect the 15 satellite cities comprising the Villar City. The Villar Group, in addition, submitted an unsolicited proposal to the Department of Transportation to build seven more stations that will extend LRT 1 to Governor’s Drive and link Villar’s dream city further.

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