From bad to worse.
This is the daily traffic challenge that travelers and residents of Sto. Tomas City have to endure since the opening of SM City Sto. Tomas last October 27, 2023.
Previously, travelers only needed to avoid passing through the First Philippine Industrial Park (FPIP) in Barangay Sta. Anastacia during rush office hours in the morning (5-8 a.m.) and afternoon (5-8 p.m.) due to heavy traffic caused by the influx of cars entering and leaving the industrial park.
FPIP, a joint venture Ecozone between First Philippine Holdings (FPH) and Sumitomo Corporation, is home to 130 companies and is one of the Philippines' largest and fastest-growing industrial parks.
Morning traffic in this area is extremely congested, stretching from the junction of Sto. Tomas City to the Batangas-Laguna boundary in Barangay Sta. Anastacia and Makiling (Laguna). In some cases, it can take up to two hours to navigate this less than three-kilometer stretch.
Adding to the FPIP traffic congestion is the Light Industrial Science Park (LISP) 3, whose main gate also feeds into the Maharlika Highway. LISP III, covering 124 hectares, is strategically located for easy access from Manila via the South Luzon Expressway and the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (Star Tollway) from Batangas City.
Furthermore, the Sto. Tomas interchange or exit from the South Luzon Expressway extension and Star Tollway adds to the mind-boggling traffic situation faced by travelers.
From bad to worse
Now, the situation has worsened due to the newly opened SM City Sto. Tomas. Residents and motorists briefly experienced relief during the Undas holiday, but netizens fear that the same traffic woes will return when classes resume on November 6, 2023.
Since its grand opening on October 27, heavy traffic has become the norm throughout the day, extending from the morning and afternoon traffic congestion in the industrial park area well into the night.
In response, affected residents and netizens are threatening to stage a mass protest at the city hall to draw the attention of Mayor Arth Jhun Marasigan's city government to find solutions quickly to alleviate the daily traffic problems. They also plan to conduct a massive picket line in front of SM City Sto. Tomas until effective solutions and alternative routes are introduced to ease the horrendous traffic.
"We will rally at the city hall and in front of SM City Sto. Tomas if the city government and SM do not address this issue," posted a netizen using the name Sto. Tomas City Community on social media. "The inconvenience since SM opened is unbearable."
Local economists estimate that the horrendous traffic is costing thousands of motorists caught in the traffic jam thousands of pesos every day.
A group of teenagers, out of curiosity, experienced the traffic snarl first-hand when they decided to visit the brand-new mall a day after its opening. The journey from their residence in Avida AyalaLand, which would typically take 10 minutes when they were studying at Mother Barbara Micarelli School in front of the new SM, now took them a grueling two hours to reach the mall.
"We might not visit SM anymore if the traffic is always like this to get to SM. Besides, it's smaller than we thought, compared to SM Calamba and SM Lipa," they said.
Sources suggest that the lack of advanced city planning has exacerbated the traffic situation. In addition to large banners announcing the opening dates, the city's traffic management office should have suggested alternative routes to help motorists avoid heavy traffic.
An adviser-member of the local Citizens Crime Watch pointed out that there's a longer alternative route in Barangay San Roque, about a kilometer longer, which could be a good option when traffic starts to build up. Motorists can proceed straight into the town proper, reach the small roundabout in Bgy San Roque, turn left, then left again at the Dali convenience store, and finally turn right onto Maharlika Highway to Bicol without facing traffic.
"Street signs would help guide motorists, but unfortunately, there aren't any," he suggested.
A traffic sign could say: "To SM, Take Inner Lane" for southbound traffic and "To Lucena/Bicol, Take Outer Lane." These directions should be reversed for northbound traffic heading to Manila. Unfortunately, these simple traffic initiatives seem to have been overlooked by the city's engineering and traffic management bureau.
During the week-long Undas holiday, traffic was relatively light, but parents and office workers anticipate the worst once their children return to school and regular workdays resume.
So much for the excitement of SM's birth in the city; everyone seems to have forgotten everything except watching celebrities regale on opening day.
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