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Metro Manila is congested. Its major arteries are blocked and it is causing high blood pressure to motorists and residents. But a bypass will not save the metropolis, it requires a new heart. In fact, we do not need multiple bypass, we need new hearts.
There was a time when you can still drive along EDSA at 7 am and experience light traffic. Now, there is already traffic buildup as early as 6 pm. In fact, you can get stuck in EDSA traffic even at midnight!
Why did we allow Metro traffic to reach apocalyptic proportions?
When I was still in government, I heard traffic officials of various administrations present their plans to solve the traffic problem. Most of the officials seem to have a good grasp of the problem. And yet, Metro Manila is still in gridlock.
The problem I think is that we insist on solving Metro Manila’s traffic problem using the bypass approach. A major artery is clogged with traffic? Let’s build a flyover. Look at all the flyovers we have built in EDSA and in other major thoroughfares. Did it solve the problem? Nope. It mere elevated the problem, literally.
A case in point is the Skyway. It was meant to address the traffic woes of travelers from the South. But during rush hour its exits are clogged. When you try to get off in Magallanes or Makati you would need the patience of a saint.
The problem with this approach is that we are way behind the curve. Even if we build flyovers over flyovers, or adopt more “experimental” projects, population and development will always outpace our valiant efforts. For instance, we keep bidding out lands in Metro Manila for development. This means more people, more traffic. In other words, the problem is expanding faster than our solution is solving them.
Instead of more development projects in Metro Manila, we need to focus on creating more development outside Manila.
We need satellite Central Business Districts (CBDs) to be developed outside Metro Manila. The CBDs of Makati and Ortigas are already jammed especially during rush hours (not to mention its parking woes). Well, Metro Manila has become one big parking lot.
We need to focus more development in areas outside the Metro. And the first thing that needs to be done is to build infrastructure in those areas. We need to pour our resources into building development projects, roads, bridges in provinces and cities outside the capital. In the meantime, instead of building more development projects in Metro Manila, let us build green spaces.
We need to make Metro Manila livable, as I have mentioned in previous columns. I mean that the tiny country of Singapore and the city of Tokyo can provide their citizens with public spaces like parks, plazas, etc. Can you imagine, for instance, if we have more walkable streets in Metro Manila?
This is what I mean by new hearts: we need development to occur outside Metro Manila. I am optimistic that with President Duterte’s promise to develop the countryside and his announced increased spending on infrastructure we can take the first significant step to solving the Metro Manila traffic and more importantly, spur rural development.
My good friend, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez has a very good grasp on this idea. He has said in the past that President Duterte intends to focus on countryside development by investing more in infrastructure thereby creating more jobs and reducing poverty.
President Duterte recognizes that since most of the infrastructure projects and businesses are currently located in Metro Manila and surrounding areas, we “need to be pro-active to ensure that developments will also happen in the countryside”. This is one of the benefits of having a President from Mindanao.
Imagine a Philippines with multiple centers of development where the economy, culture and politics thrive. Of course, it goes without saying that we need to manage the development in these new metros. Otherwise, we’ll be looking at multiple heart failures! (Senator Manny Villar)