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Woodsman, please spare those trees

/ 02:34 AM March 28, 2014

What is the Department of Environment and Natural Resources doing?

It is supposed to preserve and protect the environment—meaning, Mother Nature, which includes trees. But why is it allowing the massacre of hundreds of century-old trees in Pangasinan in the guise of widening the MacArthur Highway?

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Roads can be widened without massacring trees. In other countries, when road builders come across a big tree, they just go around it.  Here, the first reaction is to cut it down. In the United States, when they come across a very big tree, such as a giant redwood tree, they punch a hole through the trunk, big enough for a car to get through; but they do not cut down the tree. Such trees have become tourist attractions. You have seen postcards of them in California.

In the widening of MacArthur Highway, the number of trees being cut down is not just one or two or 10, but hundreds of them. All of them are about a hundred years old, each of which has a trunk that would need two or three men with outstretched arms to encircle.

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Imagine, God nurtured them for a hundred years and here comes man, one of His creations, cutting them down. Those poor trees. Their lives would be snuffed out because the road engineers here are not imaginative enough to make the road they are building go around the trees instead of cutting them down.

Curiously, the Department of Public Works and Highways, the government arm spearheading the widening of the MacArthur Highway, has done it before—that is, go around trees to save them.

The big acacia trees lining Katipunan Road, behind the UP Diliman campus, was saved by widening the road on the other side of the line of trees. The tree line has thus become an island, a divider of the wide road. This makes the road safer. Instead of vehicles jostling one another on a single wide road, they are separated by the island of trees. Sometimes vehicles traveling in opposite directions at high speeds, separated only by a thin divider of concrete and grass, jump over the divider and crash into oncoming vehicles head-on.

My own brother was killed in one such accident in Chicago. The car he was driving was bumped from behind by a speeding car. His car jumped over the divider just as another speeding car was coming from the opposite direction. The two cars crashed head-on. My brother died of a fractured skull. If the divider had been a line of trees instead of grass surrounded by a five-inch-high wall of concrete, my brother would still be alive today.

Tree dividers can save lives on provincial highways such as MacArthur where vehicles are traveling at high speed. If a driver loses control of his vehicle, it will not jump to the other side because the trees would block it. The car would crash into the trees but won’t jump over the barrier into the path of oncoming vehicles.

DPWH engineers in charge of widening the MacArthur Highway should think about that and be more innovative.

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Truckers hauling cargo to and from the Port Area have increased their fees by 50 percent allegedly because the longer turn-around time, due to the truck ban in Manila, has lessened their earnings. Now is the time to revive the trains of the Philippine National Railways to haul cargo to and from the piers.

There are railroad tracks running from the North Harbor and South Harbor to Divisoria and Tutuban to Caloocan and, from there, to north and south Luzon. With these railroad tracks, trains of flatcars hauling container vans can move through the city without disturbing traffic. Instead of trucks with a single container van winding through the narrow streets of Metro Manila and tying up traffic, the trains, carrying much more cargo, will use only the Divisoria tracks at certain hours of the day.

With fixed times for the trains to pass through, the tracks can be cleared of vehicles and vendors when these times approach. After the trains have passed, the vehicles and vendors can occupy the tracks again.

This was already done before. But the truckers, to combat the competition from the trains, lowered their trucking fees and the PNR gave up the service rather than lose money. Now that the truckers have increased their fees by 50 percent, it is time to revive the cargo trains to provide competition to the truckers.

The truckers are now acting like a cartel. Instead of competing with one another, they have banded together to blackmail the importers and exporters, and the City of Manila—demanding higher fees if the city does not lift the truck ban.

Like the jeepney drivers demanding a P5-increase in minimum passenger fare without the approval of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, the truckers have increased their fees without the approval of the Department of Trade and Industry, which has now started an investigation of the illegal hike.

The only way to break the truck cartel is to provide them with competition from the railroad. They either have to lower their fees or see their clients shift to the railroad. Not only will this provide the importers and exporters lower freight costs, it will also relieve the metropolis of traffic jams caused by the giant trucks.

Also, this will allow the PNR to earn more money so that it can improve its services not only to the shippers but also to the city folk using its commuter trains, and to the whole of Luzon when it revives its San Fernando, La Union-Legazpi, Albay line. The plan is to extend the railroad line from Aparri, Cagayan, at the northern tip of Luzon to Sorsogon at its southern tip.

Our transportation officials should be as innovative as the engineers constructing roads.

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TAGS: California, Department of Public Works and Highways, macarthur highway, Mother Nature, nature, North Harbor, Pangasinan, South Harbor, trees, UP Diliman campus
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