TUBA, Benguet Motorists and residents living in the communities along the whole stretch of the historic Kennon road are questioning the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) on the continued closure of the 34-kilometer roadline to vehicular traffic amidst the prevalence of good weather condition.
Kennon Road, the scenic zigzag road and the shortest route to and from Baguio city, was closed to vehicular traffic last June 16, 2018 after the Camp 5 bridge that was undergoing construction was heavily damaged by the prevalence of continuous heavy rains aside from the occurrence of a series of landslides and rockslides that resulted to the loss of lives of a number of motorists and damages to dozens of motor vehicles that traversed the said road at the height of heavy downpour.
Aside from the closure of Kennon road to vehicular traffic, even residents living in the communities along the stretch of the scenic national road need to take a separate route, particularly the Marcos highway, just for them to reach their homes which is too taxing on their part and a waste of time, effort and resources.
Mayor Ignacio Rivera expressed his support to the partial closure of Kennon road to vehicular traffic because there is a need for the roadline to be opened to residents living in communities along the stretch of the road and operators of a number of quarry areas in various sections of the Bued river to prevent unnecessary inconveniences to the people and the delays in the implementation of infrastructure projects in the different parts of Baguio and Benguet.
“Kennon Road should still be opened to the residents living in villages and those contractors with existing quarry sites along the road. Concerned government agencies must look into the latest technologies on how to help in stabilizing the mountain slopes to prevent the occurrence of landslides during the rainy months that pose a serious threat to life and limb,” Rivera stressed.
However, Chief Inspector James Acod, chief of the Tuba Municipal Police Station, recommended the immediate re-opening of Kennon road for light vehicles only to prevent the occurrence of monstrous traffic congestions along Marcos highway, especially during weekends, where there is always a huge volume of motorists from the lowlands that come up to the city wherein they all converge along Marcos highway that result to a slow-moving traffic.
“We highly recommend the re-opening of Kennon road to light vehicles so that there will be added alternate routes for our motorists wanting to go up to Baguio City and other parts of Benguet to spend their weekend break. We also pity the residents who have to take a long route by taking Marcos highway down to the lowland before they will be able to reach their homes which is obviously too taxing on their part,” Acod said.
Barangay officials of Camp 1, Twin Peaks, Camp 2, Tabaan Norte, Camp 3 and Camp4-6 proposed that considering that there are no more rains that rigger the occurrence of landslides and rockslides along critical portions of the road, Kennon Road should already be opened to light vehicles to help decongest Marcos highway from tremendous traffic jams during weekends and holidays and to lessen the inconvenience being experienced by their constituents as well as contractors having quarry sites along portions of the Bued River.
Kennon Road was formerly known as the Benguet Road that was built in 1903 with a budget of only $75,000 but was opened to traffic on January 29, 1905 with an accumulated budget cost of $2.1 million. It was later named after builder, Col. Lyman Walter Vere Kennon of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The highway is a toll road, with the lower tollgate located about 2.5 kilometres from the junction at Rosario near Camp 1. The upper tollgate is about 13 kilometres south of Baguio near the Lion’s Head and Camp 6, in Tuba.
The construction of the road commenced in 1903 by cutting across the mountains of Benguet with the combined efforts of Filipinos, Americans, Filipino-Chinese and Japanese nationals. It was considered one of the most difficult and expensive civil engineering projects of its day, with expenditures by the newly established Insular Government of the Philippine Islands in excess of US$2.7 million.
More than 2,300 foreign and local workers worked on the road. Aside from Filipino engineers and construction workers and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headed by Col. Lyman Kennon, foreigners from 36 countries were recruited to work on the road; the majority, about 1,500, were Japanese. Hundreds of workers died from malaria while more plunged to their deaths while building the road. After the road was completed, some of the foreign road workers decided to remain in Baguio to live permanently.
The original road was a Macadam Telford-type road which was later improved into an all-weather asphalt roadway. More recently, some portions of Kennon Road have been replaced with concrete pavement.
The highway was severely damaged by the 1990 Luzon earthquake that the Department of Public Works and Highways decided for the permanent closure of the road. The highway was proposed to be replaced by a road traversing through the town of Itogon on the way to the lowlands of San Manuel, but was met with criticism from the inhabitants of Baguio. Kennon Road was reopened for public use in September 1, 1991 after rehabilitation efforts were completed but it was only for light motor vehicles to allow the mountain slopes to first stabilize and await the putting in place of appropriate engineering works.
Engr. Fay W. Apil, regional director of the Cordillera office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB-CAR) revealed that geohazard studies were conducted along most portions of the road and it was discovered that there are many geohazard areas in the said roadline which were disturbed during the earthquake that have yet to stabilize, thus, the occurrence of landslides and rockslides during heavy downpours.
She added that it will take some time for the situation along the roadline to stabilize considering that its soil and rock formations are classified to be highly weathered, highly fractured that when they are exposed to the elements, they will eventually cascade causing the occurrence of rockslides and landslides.
Because of the dangerous situation along the road during rainy days, the DPWH-Car adopted a policy that during over two hours of continuous rains, the road will be totally closed to vehicular traffic as a preventive measure that will abate life and limb from being exposed to dangerous situations while travelling in the said area.
To date, there are pending proposals for the possible declaration of Kennon road as a heritage site or for it to be totally closed to vehicular traffic but there are also studies being undertaken for it to be opened as an all-weather road through the construction of rock sheds in identified critical portions of the highway through a partnership with interested private companies. By Dexter A. See