Goodbye, old roads

Road-widening of national highways continue
by Enrico Miguel Subido | Jun 25, 2018

The nationwide road-widening project, which began in earnest in 2013 continues, and the physical motoring landscape is indeed changing. It isn’t only us car guys who miss the nostalgia and romance of driving along tree-lined highways. Various historical preservation groups have mounted their own online petitions to preserve sections of old highways that are not only lined with century-old trees, but which are also of historical significance. Concerned environmental  and historical groups in Bataan, Ilocos, Cebu, Pampanga, have all been very vocal in their opposition to the road-widening plans. Solutions have been offered, which mostly include not flattening everything in sight.

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But there seem to be more dangers brought about by the widening of our national highways. Typhoon Domeng brought heavy monsoon rains to the mountains of the Cordillera for a whole week, inundating the soil, loosening the hold of the hardwood’s roots, causing trees to collapse. Typical Baguio-City-rainy-season story. But there’s more to consider.

Landslides are a more frequent occurrence on Kennon Road as well, and the sedan-size boulders falling from the sky seem to be more commonplace. We are sure you have seen these photographs shared on your Facebook feed. The stories of how these motorists survived such unlucky circumstances will renew your faith in a higher being. 

The effects of road widening also spill into the cities as well. Case in point is in our hometown of Baguio City, where the constant influx of guests eager to experience the cool, upland weather. Tourism is booming thanks to the lengthening of the TPLEX, and this can be viewed as a good thing. Local businesses are earning, and a new crop of entrepreneurs is born every day in Baguio. Hotels, restaurants, lifestyle hubs, and entertainment centers are mushrooming all over the place, contributing to the total local revenue. The apparent signs of progress are evident. But with more visitors come more vehicles and standstill traffic jams—a phenomenon once unheard of in the City of Pines. The solution? Widen roads and add lanes to ease traffic congestion. 

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The intention to push for road-widening projects to help improve local infrastructure and contribute to the continued growth of the city is good, but when done haphazardly, can be dangerous. Road widening causes the ground to shift, making the soil unstable and prone to landslide. Roadside trees whose roots hold soil together are also felled during road widening operations, compromising the stability of the earth underneath the pavement. And that new layer of concrete or asphalt will make it impossible for the ground to effectively absorb any moisture or rainfall, resulting in fast-flowing water which can cause floods and increase the incidence of soil erosion.

And as for claims that it is a practical solution for addressing traffic congestion, road widening is just as effective as trying to collect sand in a wide-gauge sieve. That extra lane is supposed to create more space, right? Faulty logic. There will naturally be more cars on the road compared to when the road wasn’t widened because of that extra lane. Motorists will be encouraged to take out their rides, increasing the total number of cars on the road, resulting in more traffic congestion. Businesses will also be drawn to these areas of transport, bringing even more traffic with them. This is called “induced demand,” and is a principle that always seems to get overlooked when the decision to widen roads is made.

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And let’s not forget all the ignorant constituents who use newly widened sections as their personal parking spaces. Or that, for some reason, all these road widening efforts take place during the rainy season when the weather will, undoubtedly, make each project harder to complete. 

Road widening doesn’t solve traffic congestion, and it can also lead to potentially life-threatening situations. Yet officials still push forward with them in the name of progress. But maybe an SUV-sized rock crushing an official’s ride (no casualties, of course) will get the message through.

In the meantime, all we have are photographs of the old highways and roads that we once knew, with trees that have borne witness to history. We can only hope that these widened roads become lined with trees once again.

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PHOTO: Paulo Rafael Subido
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