Will Elevated Roads Ease Jakarta’s Traffic Jams?
Ulma Haryanto. The Jakarta Globe, Jakarta - 06/02/2012
For more than a year now, Jakarta motorists have had to endure either increased traffic or take a longer route in order to avoid the ongoing construction work along Jalan Antasari and Jalan Prof. Dr. Satrio.
But city administration officials say work on what will be the city’s longest elevated roads is “more than halfway through” now and is set to be completed by August at the earliest.
And once they’re finished, the combined Rp 1.6 trillion ($179 million) for the 5.5-kilometer Antasari-Blok M elevated road in South Jakarta and the 2.3-kilometer Casablanca-Sudirman elevated road in Central Jakarta are expected to ease traffic density in the areas by half.
Few would argue that the state of traffic congestion in those two areas didn’t call for a public works solution.
According to Jakarta’s Environmental Management Agency (BPLHD), at the end of 2010, up to 4,500 vehicles were passing through the areas each hour during rush hour, exceeding their capacity of about 3,100 per hour.
“At its worst, the traffic would reach gridlock, with traveling speeds below 15 kilometers per hour,” the report said.
The government was convinced that in order to accommodate the growing number of vehicles in Greater Jakarta — a staggering 236 cars and 891 motorcycles per day — the city had to accelerate the development of roads, which stood at 401 new square meters per year.
“The main reason that we are now building these two roads is to improve vehicle movement in the two areas,” Heru Suwondo, the head of intersections at the city’s public works office, told the Jakarta Globe.
Another reason, he continued, is that Jakarta will soon see even more infrastructure work.
“The elevated roads need to finish before we begin the MRT [Mass Rapid Transit] project,” Heru said.
The first phase of the MRT, which will run from Lebak Bulus in South Jakarta to the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, is slated to begin this year.
But the plan to build the elevated highways over Jakarta’s busiest sections has not been without criticism.
While many agree that traffic solutions are needed, activists and residents have expressed concern over the environmental damage that might be caused by this “traffic quick fix.”
Instead, they say, the city should come up with better public transportation and policies to suppress vehicle growth.
Criticism aside, eight different contractors with 640 workers began construction on the two elevated roads in November 2010.
The Sudirman-Casablanca overpass is just the first phase of a planned eight-kilometer elevated road that would later connect the Tanah Abang area in the city center with Kampung Melayu in the east.
Costing Rp 800 billion, the Sudirman-Casablanca section will rise up to 20 meters above the current roadway, hovering above Karet Pasar Baru to Menteng Dalam.
“If ever Jakarta completes the monorail project, it will be built under the new elevated road, which means it will be a four-tiered road,” Heru said.
Differing from the Antasari-Blok M overpass, the Casablanca-Sudirman stretch consists of mostly huge single pillars supporting a four-lane road.
“Everything has to be solid and strong. We are extra careful with the calculations because the elevation of the structure is quite high,” Heru said.
“In the middle there would be a three-meter gap so that any vegetation beneath it could get sun,” he said.
On the other hand, the Antasari-Blok M road in South Jakarta will have two lanes spanning a total length of 4.8 kilometers, and will be 17 meters wide and 10 meters above the ground.
“We have reached the most critical stage of the construction,” said Wayan Mandia, project manager for contractor Hutama Karya.
There are now 108 giant pillars and portals standing from the Trunojoyo crossing to Cipete market for the Antasari project. With the pillars and portals set, all that’s left to be done is to attach the road’s body one concrete segment at a time.
“People might wonder how they can hang up in the air like that. The secret is in the steel wiring,” Mandia said. “Leaving them to hang for a while is like a strength test. We make sure that they can hold their own weight.”
Each pillar will have to hold eight segments, four on each side, which will then be “sewn” together with 15 to 19 steel cables, each with the capacity of holding up to 100 tons.
“The gaps will then be sealed with ‘concrete glue,’ a mixture that is three times stronger than normal concrete. Later we will also layer the road with asphalt as a finishing touch to protect the segments,” Mandia said.
With the November collapse of the Mahakam II Bridge in Kutai Kertanegara district, East Kalimantan, which killed at least 24 people, public faith in the nation’s infrastructure has understandably been shaken.
“I don’t know how they made the bridge in Kalimantan but here, we double-check everything,” Heru said. “For example, even during the planning phase the consultants measured everything, and out in the field we measure them again.”
Constructing infrastructure in a teeming city like Jakarta requires the consideration of many factors. The most obvious are how to mitigate traffic jams while minimizing environmental impacts.
For instance, construction-related road closures, including a stretch as long as 70 meters along Jalan Dr. Satrio for six months, have worsened congestion at times.
The government tried to reduce the impact on traffic by limiting road work to evenings and applying a strict set of rules. Work can only start at 10 p.m. and everything has to be cleaned up by 5 a.m.
“Yes, we faced bad weather, traffic jams and other obstructions, and sometimes we had to work past the set deadline,” Mandia said.
“The Public Works Office runs inspections at 5:30 a.m. to see if anyone’s still working. Sometimes they gave us leniency and let us go until 6:30.”
The Public Works Office also threatened the contractors with fines if they delivered later than the deadline.
“It will be subtracted from their payment,” Heru said.
Each contractor is also expected to include one year of maintenance work after the roads are finished.
But as with most construction projects, construction of the elevated roads is taking longer than expected.
“For Antasari, the target is to finish by mid-August and for Casablanca, well, it will be good if they can also finish at about the same time,” Heru said.
They were originally scheduled to finish in June.
Another challenge for the contractors is Jakarta’s chaotic utility network.
“This is why we give more leniency for Sudirman-Casablanca work, because there are a lot of utility cables there,” Heru said.
“The city doesn’t have a clear blueprint of its utilities and we had to relocate some of them before we started working,” said Kurnia Henry Yuwanto, another project manager.
Kurnia’s company, Yasa Patria Perkasa, worked on an 800-meter stretch in North Cipete, South Jakarta, which is also a residential complex.
“We knew that we were going to work in front of these people’s houses and we tried to do a survey every four months,” he said.
When excavation work began, he continued, a number of residents complained about disconnected telephone lines and television and Internet cables.
“An old woman complained that her television set broke down because of the construction work and we replaced it, but it was out of pity,” Kurnia said.
“She was living alone and people said that she was the widow of a war veteran.”
It is not only old women who demand payment. Contractors have had to deal with groups such as the Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR) and Betawi Communication Forum (Forkabi).
“First they would show up demanding jobs, and then later they would come again demanding fees for ‘security,’?” Kurnia said. “It’s the same all over Indonesia, of course we pay up, we don’t want trouble.”
Once they were paid, the organizations would raise their banners near the construction sites.
“That’s the only ‘security’ service they provide, I guess,” Kurnia said.
Other people, like urban activist Irvan Pulungan, were more concerned about the missing trees that provided shade for the Antasari area.
As many as 34 large trees were supposed to be relocated elsewhere and 279 others cleared to make room for the construction.
Irvan said it has been more than six months since the Antasari residents had filed a complaint with the State Ministry for the Environment about environmental violations and still they had heard nothing.
According to Irvan, the ministry has the authority to mediate when conflicts arise of an environmental nature.
“They did an on-location investigation and verification in August together with the residents, and they promised to publish the results and then mediate between the parties, but until today we haven’t heard anything from them,” Irvan said.
While Heru promised that all of the trees cut down to make way for the elevated roads would eventually be replaced tenfold, Irvan is skeptical.
“People living around Antasari are the most affected. With the trees gone and relocated somewhere else, the locals get nothing,” he said. He added that with the removal of the trees, residents were more prone to illness because of the increased air pollutants in the neighborhood.
Heru said it wasn’t possible for all of the trees to be replanted in Antasari since “there is no space.”
“So instead we are planting trees in green open spaces and city parks elsewhere. We are coordinate with the Parks Agency, which has given us input on where to plant, how many and what species,” Heru said. To date, he added, the administration has planted 3,000 trees.
Contractors have tried planting trees alongside the construction. “We were instructed that whenever we could, we should plant a tree,” Mandia said.
During the Globe’s visit to Jalan Antasari, a few scrawny trees jutted out awkwardly among construction materials, their bases constricted by bricks from the pavement. Some are either buried almost to their tops by sand and other construction material or have withered for want of water.
“When the construction’s finally finished, we are going to check on the trees and replant those that died,” Mandia said.