Traffic jams and buko pie: Why is traffic between Calamba and Los Baños so bad?

During rush hours, the travel time along the 20-kilometer stretch between the town of Los Baños and the city of Calamba would stretch to three hours. And that buko pie you bought as pasalubong is partly to blame.

Illustration by Mari Santilles / Laguna Now

LOS BAÑOS — Calamba City and Los Baños are known for their resorts and delicacies. But lately, they are becoming notorious for another thing: traffic jams. There are a number of causes why what used to be a 30-minute commute between the two places is getting longer every year.

Santa Cruz, the provincial capital, is over 90 kilometers away from the nation’s capital, Manila. Commuters would typically take around two hours to travel along the national highway, but that would be on a normal day. Most people constantly dread the commute as they travel through two major areas: Calamba and Los Baños.

During rush hours — around 7am to 10am and 5pm to 8pm — the travel time along the 20-kilometer stretch between the town of Los Baños and the city of Calamba would stretch to three hours. Although accidents rarely happen along the national highway, traffic jams continue to be a daily problem.

A number of causes for the heavy traffic along the two areas can be identified: highly concentrated highway establishments, lack of efficient loading and unloading areas, and choke points.

Highly concentrated highway establishments

Establishments such as convenience stores and liquor stores are lined up along Barangay Pansol, Calamba City. Most tourists would drop by these establishments and park along the highway to buy alcohol, food, and other necessities, causing heavy traffic in the area. (Photo by Jervis Gonzales)

Calamba City is home to a number of hot spring resorts, most of which are concentrated along Barangay Pansol and Barangay Bagong Kalsada. During the summer, people from Metro Manila flock to these resorts to spend the holidays with their families and take a quick break from the busy city life.

A vacation wouldn’t be complete without snacks, meals, beverages, and alcohol, so tourists would make sure to grab these necessities before going to resorts. Tourists, most of them traveling with their own private vehicles, stop by the establishments along the highway that sell these goods. In the process, vehicles end up practically parking along the highway for five minutes or even longer, clogging the highway around Pansol and Bagong Kalsada.

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Traffic begins to build up along Barangay Anos as vehicles park beside establishments along the highway in Los Baños, Laguna. Tourists usually drop by to grab pasalubong items like buko pie and yema cake, causing long queues not only outside of the establishments but also along the highway. (Photo by Jervi Gonzales)

Similarly, Los Baños is popular for its delicacies like buko pie, yema cake, and dairy goods from the University of the Philippines Los Baños. Tourists would make sure to take home these pasalubong items before going back to the city. These stores, such as Lety’s Buko Pie, Original Buko Pie, and Moo and More, are situated side by side along the highway passing through Barangay Anos.

Likewise, tourists traveling with their own vehicles would also stop by these establishments along the highway to buy these pasalubong items. However, the longer queues for getting a buko pie or a yema cake further adds to the waiting time for the parked vehicles, clogging the highway even more.

Lack of efficient loading and unloading areas

A passenger alights a bus along Letran Calamba bus stop. As the highway lacks a proper loading bay, public utility buses have to stop along the highway to drop off and pick up passengers, which also causes congestion. (Photo by Jervis Gonzales)

Some of the major loading and unloading areas for provincial buses along the highway are Crossing Calamba, Halang, Letran, Pansol, and Bagong Kalsada, and PCCARD and Olivarez Plaza along Los Baños. These bus stops, which are also situated along the highway, lack docking bays or loading and unloading zones where buses would not block or disrupt traffic.

For instance, Olivarez Plaza is a significant loading and unloading area in Los Baños, primarily due to UPLB students coming from Metro Manila and other provinces and residents working in the city. Provincial buses stop along Olivarez Plaza to drop off and pick up passengers for a few minutes or so, disrupting the flow of traffic in the process.

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The Letran Bus stop in Calamba also lacks a proper loading and unloading zone, like in Olivarez Plaza. Furthermore, the bus stop is located beside Dr. Jose Rizal Memorial Hospital, a public district hospital. A college university and a public hospital in an intersection is certainly not a good combination, thus the heavy congestion in the area.

In addition, jeepneys do not have a designated loading or unloading zone along the highway between Calamba and Los Baños. Although there are some no loading and unloading areas in Crossing Los Baños and Crossing Calamba, drivers can freely load and unload passengers along the highway.

Buses and jeepneys drop off and pick up passengers along Olivarez Plaza in Los Baños, Laguna. The bus stop lacks a docking bay, causing congestion as public utility jeepneys and buses load and unload passengers.

As jeepney drivers earn based on the boundary system where their income is based on how many passengers they get a day, drivers would make sure to take in as many passengers as they can. As a result, jeepney drivers would prefer to wait for a few more minutes to pick up and drop off passengers in Letran bus stop rather than think about how waiting for passengers along the highway can disrupt traffic.

Choke points

Consecutive choke points along Calamba and Los Baños can be identified. For instance, the newly constructed Makiling Bypass road leading to the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and Batangas is now becoming a busy intersection as travelers no longer need to pass Halang and Crossing Calamba in order to take SLEX.

However, the intersection is located just a few meters away from the Bucal railroad. The nonfunctional railroad ironically functions as a roadblock, slowing down vehicles that pass through for no reason at all. This busy intersection consecutively followed by a roadblock further clogs the artery along Calamba highway.

A jeepney passes through a railroad along Barangay Bucal, Calamba City. The railroad, which is a few meters away from Bucal Bypass Intersection, somehow functions as a speed bump that causes vehicles to slow down and resulting to traffic congestion. (Photo by Jervis Gonzales)

Los Baños also suffers the same problem. Similarly, the nonfunctional railroad along Barangay San Antonio, which is a few meters away from Crossing Los Baños, further slows down vehicles and clogs the highway.

The Pansol intersection is also a major bottleneck. The surge of tourists going to resorts and hot springs especially during summer, along with people buying goods and necessities prior to their vacation, makes the traffic along Barangay Pansol even worse.

The lack of pedestrian overpass in Los Baños makes Crossing a choke point as well. Pedestrians would have to queue up along the highway to wait for their turn to cross the road as enforcers manage and handle traffic, especially in the area along Batong Malake Public Market and Crossing.

Pedestrians cross the road along Junction in Los Baños. The absence of an overpass near Batong Malake public market slows down traffic due to the number of pedestrians crossing the highway frequently. (Photo by Jervis Gonzales)

As the traffic along Calamba and Los Baños gets worse every year due to the lack of efficient loading and unloading areas, unresolved choke points, and highly concentrated establishments along the highway, the travel time from Santa Cruz to Manila normally takes even longer than usual. Unless these problems are addressed, residents and tourists are bound to spend more time on the road than in their homes and resorts. (Laguna Now)