No sense of urgency

HIDDEN AGENDA - The Philippine Star

The traffic problem besetting Metro Manila and EDSA reminded us of the warning given by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in its Road Map for Transport Infrastructure Development for the metropolis that unless reversed, economic losses resulting from the chronic traffic could rise from the current P2.4 billion per day to P6 billion daily by 2030.

This amount does not yet include the P1 billion in economic losses every day being suffered as a result of the traffic experienced by provinces near Metro Manila such as Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite.

No less than Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Francis Tolentino has admitted that the traffic problem will continue due to delays in the implementation and completion of a number of major road infrastructure projects such as the NAIA Expressway, Skyway Stage 3, and the LRT2 extension project.

There are also several other big-ticket road projects that are similarly delayed, owing to pre-construction problems like those concerning right-of-way (ROW) as well as those owing to government’s indecisiveness or dilly-dallying such as that plaguing the North Luzon Expressway-Southern Luzon Expressway (NLEX-SLEX) Connector Road project of the Metro Pacific group.

The other road projects in varying stages of delay are the P35.42-billion Cavite-Laguna Expressway (Calax), the NLEX Harbor Link and NLEX Extension projects, and the Cavite Expressway (Cavitex) extension to Circumferential Road 5 (C-5) project.

Just a few days ago, I came from Tagaytay and was headed for NLEX until I got stuck in Congressional Avenue on my way to Mindanao Ave. at 10 in the morning. It wasn’t even supposed to be peak traffic hour. I decided not to proceed. This would not have happened had there been a road connecting SLEX to NLEX.

The Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC) actually first proposed this connector road project in 2010 that aims to cut travel time between NLEX and SLEX to only 15 to 20 minutes and of course decongest EDSA, C-5 and other major roads. But then, a government advice (for the Metro Pacific group to enter into a joint venture agreement with PNCC) followed by a government decision that the initial advice was wrong (that Metro Pacific should follow the Swiss Challenge route for unsolicited proposals) delayed the project for a number of years.

Aggravating the problem of the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road (as well as SMC-Citra’s Skyway 3) is the need to redesign both alignments, arising from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board’s recent approval of another project that will also use the railroad tracks of PNR.

But while SMC-Citra has started constructing Skyway 3 albeit the delay in its target completion date, the Metro Pacific group’s NLEX-Connector Road has yet to take off.

Originally scheduled for the third quarter, the Swiss Challenge is about to be delayed anew as this needs to be first approved by the Investment Coordination Committee (ICC), and then confirmed by the NEDA Board. It is only after the NEDA Board confirmation that the Invitation to Bid can be published in newspapers to allow interested parties to submit counter-offers that must be better than MNTC’s unsolicited proposal.

During the last NEDA Board meeting on Sept. 4, they again failed to take up the matter of the proposed Swiss Challenge for the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road Project.

If this government really takes the traffic problem seriously, then why are they delaying on this very important project that would provide a solution as early as 2019, assuming that the Swiss Challenge commences before the year ends?

According to studies, the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road would decongest EDSA, C-5 and other roads in Metro Manila’s inner cities because these choked arteries would be freed of heavy vehicles traveling to and from Manila’s Port Area. 

Business groups also look forward to this project as it would help ease the congestion at Manila ports. The Port of Manila’s worsening congestion was estimated earlier to have cost foreign and local businesses over $500 million in combined losses.

As for the other road projects in varying stages of delay, the Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALA) project won by Metro Pacific’s MPCALA Holdings Inc. is also facing delays due to ROW issues.

Meanwhile, Cavitex Infrastructure Corp. (CIC) intends to start work on its C-5 Link Expressway in a month’s time but unfortunately has to wait for the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) to issue the Notice to Proceed.

This project is a P9-billion, 7.6-kilometer expressway connecting C-5 Road in Taguig City to CIC’s R-1 (Coastal) Expressway.

ROW problems are also causing headaches for MNTC’s NLEX Harbor Link project and another one extending NLEX from Mindanao Avenue to Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City.

Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. (MPTC) president Ramoncito Fernandez told reporters that the government should deliver full ROW acquisition within the year so MNTC could finish the construction of Segments 9 and 10 of the NLEX Harbor Link by December 2016.

Segment 9 connects Mindanao Ave. to MacArthur Highway in Valenzuela City while Segment 10 connects MacArthur Highway to Circumferential Road 3 (C3) or 5th Avenue in Caloocan City.

Because of the ROW delay, Segment 10’s completion target is seven months behind schedule but Fernandez is confident that the December 2016 completion target is still doable.

MNTC is also poised to spend P10.5 billion on a 7.85-kilometer road extension from Mindanao Ave. to Commonwealth Ave., but this project is similarly being delayed by ROW problems.

MNTC originally expected to start the construction of the project in the second half of 2015 and to complete it in 2019.

There are things that our government admittedly cannot do but there are things that it can do but for some reason fails or refuses to do them. Setting into motion these important infrastructure projects is a good example of the latter. But of course, political will is needed. Imagine if the Metro Pacific was allowed to go ahead with the connector road project immediately after it submitted its proposal. Then we would probably not be having this traffic problem.

For comments, e-mail at [email protected]


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