Tangled web of confusion
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 21, 2018 - 12:00am

Anyone who has gone through the experience of building a house or undertaking a major renovation knows how frustrating it is to make sure things go well according to plan. There are so many moving parts and anything can go wrong at any time. It’s usually a tangled web of confusion.

It is also an absolute test of your people management skills. It doesn’t mean that just because you have a contractor, you can relax. You have to be on top of the project all the time to make sure you are progressing as scheduled.

I can imagine how more immensely difficult it is to supervise a multi-billion peso infrastructure project like that elevated expressway that will connect the north and south expressway. This is why San Miguel has an in-house staff and consultants to make sure things are moving.

But it isn’t that simple. It helped that San Miguel divided the project between two of the country’s top and most dependable contractors, DMCI and EEI. But even then, there were problems right from the start.

They were delayed about six months because a supermarket refused to let them work in the land adjacent to it. The owner just didn’t like the idea of an expressway right next to it.

For a project as big as this one, every day of delay costs lots of money. I understand that the elevated expressway should have been delivered late last year. But there had been so much delay for so many reasons. We will be lucky if we can use the portion from Buendia to Paco by December. Essentially, right of way problems have been causing significant delays that will cost users higher tolls.

One reaction I received last week says problematic project execution is a third world thing.

“Yes, it is doable to complete the viaduct of the SMC connector road along Osmeña highway from Buendia to the intersection of Quirino avenue and Osmeña highway by the end of 2018 (the remaining effective work time is actually from April to November 2018; when the month of December starts, there is hardly any work activity in the construction area until mid January the following year).

“The steel girders in the corner of Buendia Avenue and Osmeña highway were uploaded from Jan. 15 to March 15, 2018. And there are still two portions within this stretch where concrete girders are still to be uploaded.

“I am sure the big bosses of DPWH and DOTr are eagerly looking forward to inaugurate the Buendia to Quirino portion of the viaduct for PR purposes.  However, it is puzzling why the construction of the northbound ramp after the intersection of Buendia Avenue and Osmeña highway (it is almost finished) is being prioritized when there is no exit ramp being constructed at the Paco station end of the viaduct.

“On the other hand, the southbound entry ramp at the corner of Zobel Roxas street and Osmeña highway is not being constructed (but they have cordoned the middle lane in that stretch and construction materials like the cylindrical steel pipes that form the foundation of the ramp pillars are just lying in the middle of the road). There is no ROW issue in this portion of the construction site.

“If a southbound entry ramp can be constructed at the corner of Zobel Roxas street and Osmeña highway (or at the corner of Quirino avenue and Osmeña highway) then motorists can use this Quirino-Buendia portion to travel all the way to Alabang when this viaduct is hopefully completed by December 2018.”

I asked the contractor, DMCI, but they were not very communicative. All I could get is the information that they are awaiting further instructions from San Miguel and TRB.

Other sources say the original viaduct design does not have a down ramp at Paco Station and an up ramp at Zobel Roxas intersection, but San Miguel has indicated they want this. A minimum of eight months would be necessary to complete the ramps from notice to proceed.

I texted Ramon Ang and he replied that there are no outstanding issues that must be resolved by San Miguel. He said the segment would be delivered for sure by December.

Hmmm… I would normally believe RSA because he is a micromanager who knows the tiniest details of progress in his projects. But I wonder if he is aware of problems being faced by NGCP in getting their right of way so their poles can be relocated and construction of the elevated expressway can go full blast.

An academic observer wrote me to say execution of this project “validates the infrastructure experience in developing countries: it is not simply infrastructure spending in isolation; infrastructure build-up efficiency also requires institutional capabilities such as detailed engineering analysis and construction plans, bureaucratic efficiency, and contract enforcement. This explains why the planning and execution of the BBB’s 75 major projects (not just the connector road) are encountering a lot of problems.”

If government and San Miguel really want to deliver the segment by December, they should put up a mechanism for better coordination. Weekly meetings where issues are resolved quickly should be called. It is clear that having competent private sector parties (DMCI, EEI and San Miguel) mean nothing, if relevant government agencies do not act with urgency.

But what can one expect from DOTr? This agency is all about show!

For instance, DOTr had a ground breaking ceremony for the Common Station September last year, but nothing has happened on the ground six months later. I am told they have had two failed biddings due to low government cost estimate compared to reality. So, no contractor yet even if they broke ground.

This means it will be months before anything happens. This is a design and build contract and the design part can only start once the contract is awarded. Yung ground breaking, drama lang ni Tugade.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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