Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Back to work, with smooth traffic on MCE

No chaos on new highway at start of work week after year-end holiday
By Royston Sim And Kenny Chee, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2014

FEARS of traffic snarls on the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) as many returned to work after the year-end holiday did not materialise yesterday.

Traffic was generally smooth during the morning and evening rush hours on the new highway at its exits and surrounding roads.

The situation was unlike the gridlock last Monday - the first work day after the MCE opened - when motorists were caught in jams for two hours.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said yesterday he did not think design issues were to blame for the jams on Dec 30, and that the verdict on the MCE would be clearer in two to three weeks.

"I think if you open any major new road, where you have quite a number of changes and people have to familiarise themselves with these changes, it will take a bit of time to settle," he said.

A combination of rainy weather and heavier volume of vehicles compared to last month led to slow-moving traffic on other expressways yesterday morning.

An accident on the East Coast Parkway towards the city contributed to heavy traffic that tailed back to Still Road, while vehicles also moved slowly along parts of the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) and Central Expressway (CTE).

Traffic also built up on other roads into the city such as Keppel Road and Nicoll Highway.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said traffic volume yesterday had returned to the normal level seen on a typical weekday.

Mr Lui said the LTA will continue to monitor traffic, make improvements to signs and implement necessary tweaks so motorists have a smoother commute.

Road improvements in the Marina South area such as the straightening of Central Boulevard will improve traffic flow, he added. The boulevard will be expanded to a full five-lane road by the third quarter of this year.

Banking sales manager Anthony Lim, 38, decided to "play it safe" by avoiding the MCE and exiting the AYE at Keppel Road to get to Marina Bay Financial Centre. But he got stuck in traffic.

Investment bank executive Kelvin Tan, 29, drove from his Queenstown home at 9.15am to the AYE and then the MCE before exiting at Central Boulevard. He said the journey took him 15 minutes, compared to 75 minutes on Dec 30.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng reckons some motorists may still be avoiding the MCE.

He also noted that a lot of traffic is being channelled into the Marina area. "Traffic on Central and Marina Boulevard is going to be very heavy in the future when the area is developed," he said.

He is also unsure if the two-lane exit from the MCE to ECP will be sufficient in future. "If one of the two lanes becomes unavailable, it's going to give you a huge problem."

Ensuring a smooth run from day one
Editorial, The Straits Times, 4 Jan 2014

THE newly opened $4.3 billion Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) is a breathtaking engineering feat by any measure. Part of the mega tunnel (five lanes in each direction) under the seabed had to be built in soft marine clay, while rechannelling 2,000 cubic metres of water a second flowing from the Marina Bay. After four years of complex work costing a prodigious $860 million a kilometre, the sleek expressway deserved a triumphal opening rather than two-hour delays for users resulting from snarls at a few points en route.

First-day teething problems are to be expected, of course, but to what extent can glitches be anticipated when dealing with high volumes and multiple connections? This is a challenge which calls for an interdisciplinary approach that is not always second nature to mega project supervisors. When VivoCity was opened to much fanfare in 2006, as Singapore's largest mall offering over a million sq ft of retail space, the crowds encountered bottlenecks and navigation problems in the labyrinthine complex. Despite tapping acclaimed Japanese architect Toyo Ito and the latest building technology then, VivoCity's experience showed plans can go awry when attention is not paid to usability details - like signage and human factors that influence traffic flows.

Usability is a concept that is more associated with the information superhighway than in other areas where layouts, movements and interactions warrant a closer study of users. In the digital sphere, designers might leverage design engineering, philosophy, cognitive psychology and ergonomics to improve user experience. The management of transport and public facilities also calls for a look at social behaviour and real- world patterns of usage, among others. Indeed, usability stress tests ought to be the norm before rolling out facilities to the public.

In the case of the MCE, planners had to also consider the needs of fringe commuters. For example, those from Fort Road going to the city via the East Coast Parkway (ECP) need to thread through an East Coast Park service road. Rather than using makeshift directional signs, a broader effort to build public awareness of the changes is needed well before an opening. Maps and videos created for this purpose should also be tested for clarity and effectiveness.

When usability is adequately addressed, users are more likely to rise above inconveniences and appreciate the logic of removing part of the old ECP in the Marina area. The new Central Business District needs room to grow, with new sections blending smoothly with the old. Planning such linkages is as much an art as a science. What will make a difference is always bearing in mind the needs of users.

Smooth rush-hour traffic on MCE
No major snarls despite end of holidays and first day of school
By Royston Sim And Kenny Chee, The Straits Times, 3 Jan 2014

IT WAS the first day of school, and the first day back at work for many after the year-end holidays, but there was no major traffic snarl on the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) yesterday reminiscent of Monday's jam.

Traffic flowed freely from the east and west into the city during the morning rush hour, and was similarly smooth during the evening peak period.

Central Boulevard, a major choke point on Monday, was clear, as motorists realised they could get into the city via other exits from the MCE.

Even a broken-down vehicle on a Changi-bound stretch just before Central Boulevard hardly affected the flow of traffic. The black Subaru was towed away at about 8.30am.

A Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesman said traffic volume on the MCE and its adjoining roads yesterday was between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of that during a typical weekday.

To avoid vehicles bunching at Central Boulevard, the LTA had advised motorists coming from the East Coast Parkway (ECP) to use Exit 1 at Maxwell Road to get to Shenton Way.

Motorists from the west could exit the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) at Keppel Road or enter the Central Expressway (CTE) and exit at Merchant Road to get to the Central Business District, he said.

Traffic flow at these alternate approaches into the CBD was generally smooth as well.

Since Monday, when traffic choked along the new 10-lane expressway past lunchtime, the LTA has made several tweaks.

It converted a short stretch of Central Boulevard from two lanes to four, and since Wednesday, removed one pedestrian crossing at the junction of the boulevard and Marina Way so vehicles turning left will not be held up.

It has continued to deploy traffic wardens to help direct motorists and put up more temporary signs.

Mr Justin Tang, 34, an associate director at an investment bank, had no trouble driving from his home in Clementi to Raffles Place.

He left home at about 7am yesterday, took the AYE and used Exit 2 to Merchant Road. He arrived at about 7.20am, similar to other days.

"A lot of people are still not back at work. Next week is a better gauge of the situation," he said.

Some motorists have lamented the loss of the scenic view from the Sheares Bridge. Previously, they were able to take in the city skyline from the bridge when travelling from the ECP to AYE, and vice-versa.

But with the MCE, those going between the two expressways must go underground.

Only some motorists, like those headed to Rochor, can still enjoy the view from the Sheares Bridge.

'Real test' for new highway on Monday
Traffic smoother on MCE yesterday as many people took the day off
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 1 Jan 2014

IT WAS a smooth journey for motorists on the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) on New Year's Eve, a far cry from the traffic snarls that plagued the new superhighway on its second day of operation on Monday.

While motorists found themselves stuck in traffic on Monday morning for up to two hours, traffic on Central Boulevard - a major choke point - and nearby roads flowed freely yesterday morning.

This, after the Land Transport Authority (LTA) expanded the boulevard from two to four lanes on Monday to cope with the heavy traffic entering the Central Business District from this exit.

Observers attributed the improved situation to several factors - office workers who took the day off, the expanded Central Boulevard, and motorists being more aware of the changes and using alternative routes.

Still, they say the litmus test will likely come next Monday, when most people return to work.

Lawyer Serene Soh, 45, decided to exit at North Bridge Road instead of Central Boulevard to get from Bukit Timah to her office in Marina Bay after hearing about the jams on Monday.

The journey was smooth, she said, but added: "Many people are away now, half of my office is on leave. I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

An LTA spokesman said yesterday's traffic volume was about 60 per cent of the norm on a typical weekday in the area.

More electronic signs will be put up along the 10-lane MCE, and these will be more destination-specific, she added.

For instance, signs will tell motorists heading to Shenton Way to use the Maxwell Road exit, and more lane guidance will be given to motorists entering the MCE from East Coast Parkway (ECP).

Monday's jams happened primarily at several points along the expressway: the exits leading to and at Central Boulevard, and the eastbound tunnel near the ECP and Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway intersection.

This led some motorists to urge the authorities to reinstate a portion of the old ECP that has been closed, but LTA explained that the closure must take place first before Central Boulevard can be straightened and expanded into a full five-lane road.

This will take place by the third quarter of this year.

Banking programme director Santosh Basker, 35, said he took 45 minutes to travel from Bedok to his office in Marina on Monday morning, but only 15 minutes yesterday. "People are just getting to know the routes," he said. "My only concern is that it's not a real working day. Next Monday will be the real test."

No cut in overall number of lanes to ECP
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 1 Jan 2014

ONE of the major choke points on the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) experienced by motorists on Monday was at a stretch where the MCE splits into the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) and East Coast Parkway (ECP).

Only two of the five lanes connect to the ECP, resulting in a tailback of about half a kilometre at lunch time.

Motorists and transport experts had questioned the authorities' rationale for giving more room to the KPE rather than the heavily used ECP.

Yesterday, a Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesman said the MCE is meant to serve traffic mainly from the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) and Central Boulevard to the ECP.

This accounts for about half of the eastbound traffic demand, she said.

Motorists coming from the Central Business District (CBD) are encouraged to use the two-lane Sheares Avenue to get on the Sheares Bridge and then the ECP, she said, adding that there is actually no reduction in the overall number of lanes leading to the ECP.

She also advised people who work nearer to Keppel Road to enter the MCE from there.

MCE choke points 'likely to ease with familiarity'
Experts say it will take motorists time to get used to various exits
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 31 Dec 2013

MOST of the congestion points in the newly opened Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) are likely to dissipate over time, experts say.

This is because motorists will be more familiar with the new highway, its alignment as well as its various exits and entrances.

In a media release yesterday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said traffic within the MCE tunnel was smooth-flowing generally, but acknowledged that there had been congestion and tailbacks at certain locations.

For example, some westbound motorists on the East Coast Parkway (ECP) did not enter the MCE directly from the ECP near Fort Road, but instead used Sheares Bridge to enter the city area before heading out to the MCE, thereby contributing to congestion in Marina South, it said.

Some key roads in the new downtown were also congested as many motorists entered the Central Business District (CBD) using the MCE exits that lead to Central Boulevard.

On the traffic bottlenecks due to the MCE, retired traffic engineer Joseph Yee said: "It is a completely new road. People will get used to it."

He also pointed out that by the third quarter of next year, Marina Boulevard and Central Boulevard - the two main roads in Marina South - will be straightened and expanded to form high-capacity roads leading to and from Shenton Way. The extensive roadworks in the area, which had impeded traffic flow, will also be over by then, he added.

Transport researcher Lee Der Horng from the National University of Singapore said there are some improvements which the LTA can make.

"Most immediately, they can improve the signage," he said. "The signs are inadequate."

For instance, there are two signs almost side by side at the ECP entrance into MCE. One reads "MCE to AYE" (Ayer Rajah Expressway), while the other "MCE to Central Boulevard".

While the LTA said this was to advise motorists which lane they should keep to, the location of the signs gives the impression there are two entrances into the underground expressway.

Observers said this had led to a number of instances of lane weaving and braking.

The LTA conceded, with a spokesman saying more temporary signs at key areas "will be put up to alert motorists of the road network changes and the best way to get to their destination".

"Traffic wardens will continue to be deployed to help direct motorists," he added.

In addition, the LTA will convert a short stretch of Central Boulevard from two lanes to four lanes to enable smoother traffic into Shenton Way.

However, having only two lanes at the ECP exit towards Changi may result in a persistent choke point. Prof Lee said having two lanes was inadequate for such a high-demand area. Previously, four lanes of the AYE merged with four lanes on the ECP, allowing traffic to move seamlessly, while maintaining constant speed.

He added that yesterday's traffic volume was lower than on normal weekdays, as most people were still away on leave.

One way to solve this would be to add another lane, but that will be an engineering feat because the MCE is an underground expressway. It may also mean acquiring more land.

Major crawl on second day of new expressway
LTA to ease choke points and add signs on Marina Coastal Expressway
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 31 Dec 2013

THOUSANDS of motorists and commuters found themselves stuck in traffic for as long as two hours along the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) yesterday, on the $4.3 billion 10-lane superhighway's second day of operation.

Those going to work during the morning rush hour inched into the city, with traffic easing up only after lunch. Evening peak-hour traffic was comparatively smoother.

Ms Chia Kim Suan, a vice-president at a bank, said she took more than two hours to drive from her West Coast home to her office instead of the usual 30 minutes.

The 36-year-old said vehicles exiting to the Central Boulevard from the east and west caused a bottleneck. "It was like a nightmare. If they don't improve the situation, it will only get worse. This is still the holiday period."

Frustrated motorists also complained of inadequate signs and confusing directions.

Yesterday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it was monitoring traffic flow and will make adjustments, such as adding more signs and immediately converting a short stretch of the Central Boulevard from two to four lanes.

This exit, which most motorists took to enter the Central Business District almost exclusively instead of another exit to Maxwell Road farther ahead, was the biggest choke point along the new expressway. The heavy construction around the Central Boulevard - and indeed, in many parts of Marina South - worsened the crawl.

Other problem areas included the city-bound entrance from the East Coast Parkway (ECP), where fast-flowing traffic had to slow down suddenly to negotiate a sharp left turn to enter the MCE.

The abrupt slowdown had a "shockwave" effect on vehicles behind, causing a queue to form.

The new expressway's ECP exit towards Changi was also crowded. "Previously, those travelling from the AYE (Ayer Rajah Expressway) to the ECP had a seamless journey - they didn't know where one ended and the other began," said retired traffic engineer Joseph Yee.

"But now, there are just two lanes leading to the ECP."

Checks by The Straits Times showed that this choke point was worsened by a parallel exit to Fort Road, which had bumper-to- bumper traffic tailing back for about half a kilometre at lunch time.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said having only two lanes leading to the heavily used ECP "is a bit strange". "They should allocate more lanes towards the ECP," he said.

Mr Yee said more lanes could be added, but it would mean acquiring more land. He suggested "studying what is disturbing the flow" at this exit and the Fort Road exit. "Like water flowing in a drain, you have to examine where the obstructions are," the former LTA planner said.

The LTA attributed yesterday's congestion and confusion largely to motorists being unfamiliar with the new expressway and road network. It said that it expects the "situation to stabilise over time as motorists get used to the new configuration".

Bigger test this week for traffic on new expressway
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 30 Dec 2013

Traffic was smooth on Singapore's costliest expressway's tunnel when it was opened to the public yesterday from 9am.

However, there were slowdowns along the Central Boulevard and Marina Boulevard as some drivers may not be familiar with how to enter the $4.3 billion Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE), according to the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

The 10-lane MCE, which took almost five years to build, connects the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) and East Coast Parkway (ECP) in the east to the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) in the west.

Motorists told The Straits Times that they expect the new expressway, which has a speed limit of 80kmh, to make it more convenient to travel to the Shenton Way, Marina South and Maxwell Road areas.

"But we'll have to see what happens during this coming week when more people use the expressway to get to work in the Central Business District (CBD). Sunday's traffic is not reflective of the actual road use," said taxi driver Mohd Sidek, 48.

Civil servant Jonathan Lin, 29, was among the drivers still figuring out the new routes.

"I was expecting to get out at Rochor on the ECP, but that was the part that was closed because of the MCE, so I had to make a big detour," he said.

The LTA said it has put up temporary signs at key approaches to remind motorists of the key road changes.

"Traffic wardens have also been deployed to help direct motorists," said a spokesman. "As with all changes to the road network, motorists may take some time to be familiar with the changes."

The LTA said motorists should note the following:
- Those travelling between the KPE or ECP and the AYE should use the MCE, as it will serve as the main expressway connecting traffic travelling between the east and the west.
- Those travelling between AYE, ECP or KPE and the CBD can use the MCE to connect directly via Marina Boulevard and Central Boulevard.
Depending on their destinations, motorists can also use other arterial roads.
- With the ECP ending west of Benjamin Sheares Bridge, motorist can continue to use the new arterial road, Sheares Avenue, to enter the CBD from ECP.
More information on the road network changes can also be found on the LTA's website.

S'pore's deepest, widest, costliest highway opens
The Straits Times, 29 Dec 2013

The Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) is a road of superlatives.

When it opens to traffic at 9am today, motorists will be driving through Singapore's widest and deepest underground road.

The MCE, which joins the East Coast Parkway (ECP), Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) and Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE), has five lanes in each direction. The KPE has three.

At its deepest, it is 25m below sea level. It is also the first undersea road, with a 420m section beneath the seabed south of the Marina Barrage.

The 5km, $4.3 billion infrastructure is also the shortest highway here, and the costliest, at $860 million per km.

It is also the smoothest, as its surface is finished using a laser technology that allows for no more than 2mm of undulation per metre. The only other stretch of public road surpassing this standard here is the Marina Bay Formula One circuit.

"Piles as long as 85m, or 25 storeys, had to be driven into the ground," she said, adding that more than four million cubic metres of soil, "enough to fill more than 1,700 swimming pools", was excavated.

"In spite of all these challenges, the MCE construction team was able to complete the project on time," she noted.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and other MPs were also at the opening ceremony.

Land Transport Authority director Chuah Han Leong, who oversaw the MCE project, said "the ride is much better" than that of the KPE.

Mr Chuah also said the MCE is more watertight than the other underground expressways. It has better and tougher waterproofing than those used for the KPE and the Central Expressway (CTE).

But despite this, he said leaks might develop over time. "So we put in groutable tubes," he said, referring to tubes along the tunnels that allow a sealant to be pumped in to fill up leaks.

The MCE is also more fire-resistant than other underground roads here, in line with international standards of fire safety which have risen over the years.

It has a deluge system - essentially an oversized sprinkler system - that dispenses 350 litres of water a second.

The ceiling of the entire MCE is also lined with fire-retarding boards. The CTE does not have these, while only sections of the KPE that go under the Pelton Canal and Geylang River have them.

These boards keep the temperature of the concrete below 380 deg C, even when a fire is raging at 1,000 deg C, Mr Chuah said.

Tanjong Rhu resident Raymond Tay, 60, is one of those looking forward to using the MCE.

The yard crane operator, who works at PSA's Keppel port, said besides driving, he would be able to use bus service 30, which will ply the tunnelled road. Separately, nine premium bus services will also make use of the MCE.

Engineer George Lee, 43, who lives in Jurong East, said: "I will use it when I visit my mum-in-law. She lives in Upper East Coast Road. Currently, I use the PIE (Pan-Island Expressway) to get there."


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