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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Managing a 12-km traffic jam

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“The motoring public are paying good money to the freeway concessioners and certainly deserve better service”

The flooding on both lanes of NLEX in San Simon for several days that caused monumental traffic jams that stretched to around 12 kilometers at its worst and not six as claimed by NLEX resulted in so much inconvenience to the motoring public.

This is due to the lingering effects of typhoon Egay, Falcon and monsoon rains resulting in the overflow of the Pampanga River.

As far as I can tell, this is the first time that flooding this serious has occurred along our freeways.

This is because these roads are normally elevated making them supposedly impervious to flooding. Apparently something must have happened in the surrounding area that caused rain water to overflow into the freeway.

What is quite disappointing is the manner in which the NLEX management initially responded to the problem.

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The response left much to be desired.

Allowing motorists to get stuck in traffic for four or five hours should not be allowed to happen. Equally disappointing is that the government only intervened much later to help manage the traffic.

It was not till last Sunday that NLEX finally issued some kind of updates and travel advisories.

Prior to that, there was nothing except an offer of apology and an appeal for patience.

The motoring public deserves more from NLEX than just prepositioning some vehicles and personnel right there in the flooded area to caution motorists traversing the 35-meter length of flood.

There are things NLEX could have done to manage the traffic better.

First is public information. At the start of the problem, there should have been a daily barrage of traffic updates like the one issued last Sunday until the problem is over.

When we passed thru the area going south on August 2, we only found NLEX traffic personnel in the flooded area and there were not enough of them.

There were no traffic signs before the flooded area warning motorists of the problem ahead which made motorists to form four lanes exacerbating the problem.

Second, positioning traffic personnel only in the flood area is alright but is not the best way to manage the traffic in such a situation.

What should be done is to preposition personnel four or five kilometers before the flooded area with traffic signs for drivers to start forming two lanes.

Why? Because only two lanes of the flooded area are usable. The left most lane by class one and two vehicles and the other lane by higher classes of vehicles.

This should be strictly maintained to ensure discipline and continuous travel.

Changing lanes should be absolutely prohibited. It is the propensity of drivers constantly changing of lanes forming additional lanes that worsens the congestion.

Unfortunately, our driving culture is such that motorists do not want to wait for their turn and will do everything possible to get ahead of others.

Last Friday, on our way back going north, even with the horrible traffic congestion, there was a convoy led by two Highway Patrol Motorcycle riders with their sirens blaring forcing all the other motorists to give way.

That also worsened the congestion because other vehicles tried to take advantage by joining the convoy.

Additional traffic personnel should be deployed along the stretch of the congested traffic with the help of the police to prevent such situations from happening and to maintain order because a lot of problems are also happening there.

In more developed countries like Japan and Germany, it would only have taken traffic signals emanating from their high tech traffic operation centers to instruct motorists to follow directions without any problem.

We cannot do that here because our freeways are not yet equipped with advance traffic signaling system. Besides, our drivers here may not be disciplined enough to follow traffic signals especially in problematic traffic situations like the San Simon flooding.

Third, NLEX should have scouted for alternate routes and then informed the public especially those whose vehicles have problems negotiating the flooded area.

In the several days that the flood did not subside, it was only last Sunday that warnings were given. Many inconveniences could have been avoided had the updates been given much earlier.

Fourth is about undertaking temporary solutions.

Could NLEX have taken some engineering actions that could have allowed for faster travel instead of just waiting for the water to subside?

The flooding is obviously an engineering problem and the solution is either to elevate the road above the flood water or eliminating what is causing the flooding.

Either way, NLEX must now assume that since flooding has happened in that particular area, it will happen again and a permanent solution must be found and found sooner rather than later.

Could putting cement slabs on one side of the flooded area have helped temporarily?

As it is, the flooding exposed the vulnerabilities of our freeway system and the unpreparedness of NLEX to respond to such situations.

What if the problem was much bigger and more complicated? For one, NLEX, and the other freeway concessioners need modern traffic operation centers to digitalize traffic management and traffic updates along the freeway as needed.

What we have in this country is the most basic of freeway systems. We only have the road and not the other parts that would complete the system.

The next step should be to install modern traffic operation centers to better manage our lengthening freeways systems.

This should include CCTVs in every critical area and the training of traffic personnel to manage the traffic operation centers.

After all, the motoring public are paying good money to the freeway concessioners and certainly deserve better service.

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