Past and Curious
Road construction through the years
Roads around the world were originally tracks that later became trails. The arrival of the wheel, first in ancient Sumer, Mesopotamia, made traveling more rapid and less strenuous. As commerce grew, the tracks or trails were often flattened or widened to accommodate human and animal traffic. The Romans paved roads with gravel and stones so mobilizations of troops even during the rainy seasons weren’t hampered.
With the prevalence of horse-drawn carriages and steam-operated vehicles, there was a demand for better roads. The “Good Roads Movement” was very influential in the US from the 1870s to the 1920s. In the Philippines, however, the Spaniards never bothered to improve the road system. Most provinces were not connected by roads—deliberately done to deter possible unification and rebellion. To the end of the Spanish colonial period, the Philippines had less than 1,600km of good roads, and 2,600 bridges and culverts.
The first automobile arrived here in 1900. As more cars arrived in 1902, there was a clamor for better roads. But no action was initiated by the insular government. Many thoroughfares were still in deplorable state. The idea of traveling anywhere beyond the Manila City limit of three miles was too ridiculous to be considered.
The Philippine Road law was enacted on July 13th, 1906. The Bureau of Public Works was tasked to lead the construction of priority road and bridge requirements of the government. Construction of good roads leading north and south of Manila immediately commenced.
In 1909, Governor-General Cameron Forbes ordered further construction of roads and bridges all over the country, especially in Luzon. Routes from Southern Luzon to Northern Luzon still had dead-end obstructions. The Alatco bus, the first public bus in 1910, could do no more than go around Bicol and Camarines provinces.
The Manila-to-Baguio route via Angeles, Pampanga, was also non existent; travelers had to follow the old Manila North Road via Manila, Nueva Ecija, and Tarlac to reach Camp One and beyond. Direct travel to Pampanga became possible only after other sections of the Manila North Road were finished in the 1920s. It was renamed MacArthur Highway in 1961.
Miguel Lopez de Legazpi commissioned the building of Cebu’s Colon Street in 1565. Named after Columbus, it is the oldest street in the country. Puente Colgante, a pedestrian toll suspension bridge opened in 1852, became the Quezon Bridge in 1940. Opened in 1905, Kennon Road became the first route to Baguio City. Manila streets were first to be concretized in 1962. Planned in 1965, the Pan-Philippine Highway made possible the Laoag-to-Zamboanga route via RORO services. Lagusnilad, the first underground pass, was inaugurated in 1966. NLEX and SLEX were opened from 1968 to 1969. San Juanico Bridge, which has connected Samar and Leyte since 1973, is still the longest bridge in the country.
The epic of road construction, maintenance and standardization did not stop even after 20,780km completed by the end of 1935. A decade ago, 216,016km were completed. Traditional procedures are complemented by modern methods for better highways, under- and overpasses, inter-island bridges, and tunnels. And definitely, more is to come.