Editorial: Keep traffic council local

FOR about 30 years now, a proposal to bring Metro Cebu’s local governments together to fix common problems like traffic congestion kept getting stalled in Congress.

In some cases, the bill gained unanimous support from Cebu’s lawmakers in the House of Representatives but failed to get a champion in the Senate. As of April 2017, the proposed Mega Cebu Development Authority had reportedly gained approval at the House committee level. Will it be approved in both houses before the May 2019 elections?

This week, officials of the Department of Transportation revealed during a visit to Cebu the impending creation of a regional Inter-Agency Council on Traffic. That sounds like a good idea. To a community frustrated almost daily by traffic congestion, proposals to ease traffic are welcomed the way a person dying of thirst in the desert welcomes the sight of an oasis. Sometimes, though, that turns out to be a mirage.

Traffic is not merely a local problem, and the central government’s vision and resources are essential parts of the solution. But it’s local officials who know best what the changing traffic conditions are.

A metro-level body led by local officials, like the governor or a mayor, would probably work better than a council chaired by national government executives with no mandate from local constituents. One may argue that not all elected officials possess the technical expertise to come up with short, medium, and long-term traffic solutions. But they can always tap private sector experts or seek technical assistance from international development organizations.

Heads of regional and national government departments may have more technical expertise than most local elected officials--except for those appointed as a reward for political support--but they lack the local connections. Regional directors often tend to seem more accountable to their central offices than to the communities where they are based. Where they can and should be more effective is in speeding up the process of endorsing local traffic infrastructure and other solutions for funding.

Finally, a traffic council headed in the regions by national department executives would go against the push for decentralization that this government has promised. As a champion of federalism, the Duterte administration signals its belief in localized power and a larger, fairer share of resources for local governments than what these have received in decades of a centralized rule. An inter-agency council on traffic would work best if local officials, being vulnerable to the power of the ballot, were made to lead them.

No doubt the inter-agency traffic council proposal came with good intentions, but let’s hope these are not the sort that the road to traffic hell are paved with.
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