Poor Batangas town also wants to lure Taal tourists

MALVAR, Batangas—Businessmen wishing to cash in on Taal Volcano’s tourism market are asking the local government to put pressure on a tollway operator to rush a project to open a road exit to Balete town in this province.

The exit will provide the shortest link to travelers and tourists from Manila to Balete, a fifth-class municipality (annual income: P15 million-P25 million) which offers a close view of the volcano and boat rides to tourists going to its lake, Pedrito Kalaw, chair of the Batangas Chamber of Commerce, said.

At present, Kalaw said, motorists using the STAR (Southern Tagalog Arterial Road) Tollway, a 42-kilometer southward expressway connecting Manila and Batangas, must take the Tambo exit in Lipa City and the national road to reach Balete.

ADVERTISEMENT

An alternate route to the town is the Bulihan exit in Malvar town, but even that would eat up travel time when passing through the national road. As a result, traffic volume increases in the already densely populated Lipa, where several schools and malls are found.

“This hampers economic growth in Batangas. Instead of tourists wanting to go to Balete or Malarayat, they choose to go somewhere else because of the heavy traffic,” Kalaw said.

The Balete exit is between Bulihan (Km 70) and Tambo (Km 82).

North Batangas summit

The Batangas Business Chamber, which has 150 members, brought out the tollway issue during the 6th North Batangas Summit in Malvar on Jan. 27. The biennial conference on economic development, ecology and tourism has been hosted by the First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities since 2002.

Attending the meeting were stakeholders from the third district (Agoncillo, Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Laurel, Malvar, Mataas na Kahoy, San Nicolas, Santa Teresita, Santo Tomas, Talisay and Tanauan City) and the fourth district (Ibaan, Padre Garcia, Rosario, San Jose, San Juan, Taysan and Lipa). The two areas compose North Batangas.

The chamber said that Balete could generate revenues equivalent to 10-20 percent of the income that Tagaytay City in Cavite was enjoying because of its view of the Taal Volcano. It placed income from property development in Malarayat, a mountain range in Lipa, at millions of pesos.

A related concern the group raised was the opening of a second lane on the portion of the STAR Tollway that connects Lipa and Batangas City, where the Batangas port is located. A number of business locators have complained that some portions of the highway were dimly lit at night and were rarely being patrolled by lawmen.

Tollway accidents

“Since only one lane is operational, the tendency is for the motorists to overtake slower vehicles and this commonly results in accidents,” Kalaw said. Records of the Philippine National Police Highway Patrol Group showed at least two fatal road accidents occurring on the STAR Tollway every quarter.

The average number of vehicles passing through the expressway daily last year was 21,000, according to records of its operator, STAR Tollway Corp.

“They’re giving us reasons that only a few vehicles pass by the STAR Tollway (hence less priority is given). But they wouldn’t listen that the reason there were few vehicles was that people were afraid to take the STAR Tollway,” Kalaw said.

Adolfo Dioquino Jr., president and chief executive officer of STAR Tollway Corp., said the proposals for the Balete exit and the additional lane were being reviewed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for recommendation to the Toll Regulatory Board.

Dioquino said the other proposals included improving the lighting system and setting up security cameras.

“The local government should do the lobbying to speed these up. There has to be pressure somewhere [and] if necessary, we might write them a resolution,” Kalaw said. “It’s already beyond our control because the documents were already submitted to the DPWH,” he said.