Editorial: Flooded airport

When traveling out of town, Jakartans are increasingly worried whether the main toll road to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport is flooded, especially now at the height of the rainy season.

It seems even a low-intensity rainstorm is enough to flood the city, including the airport toll road, especially when the Java Sea is seeing a high tide.

In one incident, the high tide itself was enough to send seawater across the tollway, cutting off access to the airport, without any accompanying rain.

Flooding on the Prof. Sediatmo turnpike -- the official name of the tollway to the airport -- is becoming a regular event for Jakartans.

However, even if they are stuck for hours on the toll road and miss their flights, they will not file a civil suit or even lodge a formal protest with the authorities.

The authorities -- in this case the local government, the airport authority, the toll road operator and the police -- seem to take the flooding for granted, considering it simply business as usual.

But they seem to forget that Soekarno-Hatta International Airport is not only for Jakartans. It is the main gateway to Indonesia. It is the main entrance point for tourists and businesspeople visiting the country.

Flooding on the Sediatmo toll road is bad, not only for Jakarta's economy, but also for the whole country. It is bad, especially, for Visit Indonesia Year 2008.

Imagine, thousands of tourists lured by the Visit Indonesia campaign and flying to Indonesia via Soekarno-Hatta airport, and being greeted not by flowers but by floods.

That would be a disaster for our tourism industry because word would spread that Indonesia is submerged and not worth visiting.

Word of mouth is more powerful than any advertising campaign.

Before it is too late, the authorities need to take quick and drastic measures to solve the flooding problem.

A few alternatives are available. The most drastic is to relocate the airport to higher ground. This idea has been suggested, but has yet to be seriously considered.

Another alternative is to restore the mangrove forest around the Sediatmo tollway to serve as a water catchment area.

This idea is, however, also remote because it would only open old wounds and hurt relations with the powerful businessmen behind the huge Pantai Indah Kapuk housing complex and accompanying golf course.

A more reasonable step would be to build alternative routes to the airport, including an elevated railway line.

Plans for a railway line to the airport from Manggarai are with the city administration, but, until the first stone is laid, we should not expect the railway to materialize anytime soon.

It took Vice President Jusuf Kalla's recent visit to the flooded toll road to just keep the railway plan alive. But whether this is followed up by funding and implementation remains to be seen.

Kalla also ordered toll road operator PT Jasa Marga to raise the existing Sediatmo tollway by 1.5 meters, and to add four additional lanes to the existing four lanes.

We support both efforts, especially the addition of more lanes because even when there is no flooding, the toll road is often backed up with traffic, the result of the growing number of housing complexes along the toll road.

Equally important is to build and promote alternative routes to the airport. The few alternative routes that do exist are unknown to most people, and they are generally small roads that are easily jammed, especially when it rains.

When there are spacious, paved alternative routes, more people will use them to get to the airport, reducing the burden on the Sediatmo tollway.

But alternative roads are only for those who have cars or can afford to take a taxi to the airport, which can cost more than a hundred or even two hundred thousand rupiah, a significant amount for many who take budget airlines.

Therefore, the government needs to maintain affordable and reliable public transportation to the airport.

Currently, the buses of state-owned bus company Damri provide airport service. In the future, we hope, the railway company will follow suit. Only then will the airport be accessible to everyone at anytime.

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