The national southern Bali highway, spanning from Gilimanuk ferry port in the west and Padang Bai port in the east, is plagued with gridlock and disrepair, triggering complaints from truckers, who transport vital commodities from Java to Nusa Tenggara regions, and other road users.
Harso, a crew member on the regular bus that connects Denpasar to Yogyakarta, said recently that many trucks broke down along the Denpasar-Gilimanuk route, especially in the narrow section with many turns and inclines in Tabanan regency. The breakdowns often cause kilometers of traffic congestion along the route.
“Two days before Nyepi [Hindu Day of Silence], our trip was delayed by almost three hours because a truck carrying iron bars broke down between Samsam and Bajra. We finally reached the port after six hours on the road, instead of the usual three-hour journey,” commented Harso, who said that the truck blocking the highway could not be removed immediately due to its heavy load.
Organization of Land Transportation Owners (Organda) chairman Ketut Eddy Darmaputra said no solution had been found to the traffic problems along the main highway connecting Java-Bali-Nusa Tenggara, which is used by various vehicles, including inter-province buses, tourist buses, private vehicles and trucks carrying staple food supplies and construction materials, as well as new motorbikes and cars.
In recent years, especially during school holidays, Christmas, New Year and Idul Fitri, the congestion got worst as more vehicles used the highway.
Eddy urged the government to improve road infrastructure. “For example, the government can create alternative roads to solve the congestion. This highway is the main [land] gate to Bali; it is the face of Bali. This situation may harm our tourism image.”
Eddy also called for harsher penalties for overloaded vehicles. Traffic jams, Eddy said, also caused losses in time and money for his bus fleet.
Separately, Bali Transportation Agency head Dewa Putu Puniasa, who acknowledged the problem, said improving national highway infrastructure was the responsibility of the central government. For its part, the agency has attempted to improve conditions by installing traffic lights and traffic signs and deploying traffic officers.
“The highway has exceeded its carrying capacity. Additionally, drivers lack patience. It is worrying,” said Puniasa, adding that expanding the highway would require advanced technology and a massive amount of cash given the existing prices of land in southern Bali.
Puniasa said that about 10 years ago there had been a plan to build a toll road from Kuta in the south to Seririt in the northern coastal regency of Buleleng. However, the plan was never realized due to land acquisition issues.
Other plans, such as diverting trucks and containers from Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya directly to Lembar in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, thus avoiding passing through Bali, was also too difficult to implement.
“It is not easy [to solve this]. However, we will continue to report the latest conditions of the highway in the hope that it will be prioritized by the central government,” promised Puniasa.