What happened to the traffic master plan?
In a special report (by Agence France-Presse) on the deaths of patients being transported by ambulance to the hospital but dying on the way because of traffic in Metro Manila roads, veteran automotive journalist Vernon Sarne had a pithy explanation.
“Even when you want to give way,” Sarne said, “but the motorway is full, what can we do? The ambulance cannot levitate.”
Oh, but presidential spokesperson and legal adviser Sal Panelo had a ready reply to this dilemma. He suggested that ambulances could very well levitate—that is, that patients and hospitals use “choppers for an emergency flight” instead. “If your problem is traffic,” Panelo added in all his wisdom, “and you cannot reach the hospital, then maybe a chopper can do that within minutes.”
If this is the thinking of the President’s alter ego on the horrendous problems caused by Metro Manila traffic, then we’re in a heap more trouble than we think.
For starters, a helicopter flight can cost thousands per trip, amounts the average patient cannot afford. Then there is the matter of chopper availability, with Panelo airily dismissing the problem by saying the defense and health departments should coordinate on the matter. And did Panelo even consider the number of hospitals in the metropolis with a ready helipad?
This illustrates the frustrating situation that those seeking a solution or solutions to the traffic mess face. Instead of hunkering down and taking the necessary, even obvious, steps to deal with the problem, our officials insist on the dramatic, the draconian and the downright silly.
First, of course, is the insistence of no less than the President himself that he needs “emergency powers” to address traffic. The grant of emergency powers, President Duterte insists, would enable him to allocate funds for infrastructure and other measures without going through the often-tedious processes of government transactions.
But Sen. Grace Poe, whose committee has been holding hearings on the traffic mess, has other ideas. Traffic problems remain unresolved, she said, not because of Congress’ refusal to grant emergency powers but because of the lack of a transport master plan. There are enough laws existing to facilitate procurement and right-of-way problems, the senator said. “Under these existing laws, a lot could have been done with or without emergency powers.”
Before terminating the first hearing, Poe declared that “it’s not the lack of powers but the lack of a more proactive stand. We need firmer actions from the executive who can very well function if they want to.” She stressed the need for a transportation system master plan that identifies short, medium and long-term projects, and gives the plan “sufficient funding and achievable deadlines.”
Indeed, the country already has a master plan for easing the metro’s traffic problems. This is the “Dream Plan” formulated in 2014 with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) and adopted by the National Economic and Development Authority or Neda.
During the same Senate hearing, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade confirmed that the Department of Transportation had received all the studies and master plan submitted by Jica “two or three years ago.” But Tugade added that while they “were trying to follow the master plan,” he and his bright boys implemented it “with some changes on the structures and facilities.”
Among these changes, revealed an engineer who was part of the Jica team that drew up the “Dream Plan,” was that “some of the 11 or 13 bridges plans were not part of the (Jica) plan.” Asked if there was something wrong with this, the engineer replied: “Adjustments are acceptable, but if it changes the whole behavior of the network, it changes the integrity of the plan.”
In short, having been handed the gift of a meticulously prepared plan that had been ready as long as five years ago, the government either shelved some parts of it and then tinkered with others, thereby weakening the entire scheme.
In the meantime, traffic costs P3.5 billion a day in lost opportunities and inefficiencies, a toll that could worsen to P5.4 billion a day by 2035. It is material loss our country and people can ill afford. Not to mention the death toll we put up with, simply because we have neither infrastructure nor driver discipline to allow ambulances their rightful right of way.
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