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No longer an impossible dream

TOWARDS JUSTICE - Emmeline Aglipay-Villar (The Philippine Star) - January 26, 2021 - 12:00am

In the past month since the soft opening of the Skyway Stage 3 (Skyway 3) from Buendia to Balintawak, many people have been sending me messages to relay their congratulations to my husband, Mark Villar, the Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). They said that the Skyway 3 is a “dream come true,” a “game-changer,” it is “unbelievable” or that it was a “miracle” because it has made it so much more convenient to travel from the South to North of Luzon and has cut travel time from Buendia to Balintawak to just 15 minutes.  As I relay their greetings to my husband, he is quick to say that this is not an accomplishment of the DPWH alone but the entire Build-Build-Build team under the Duterte Administration, and in cooperation with San Miguel Corporation.

I have not passed the Skyway 3 myself, but based on the actual experiences of family, friends, acquaintances and strangers that they have shared with me, it has been a great help to many motorists who travel from North to South and vice versa. The Skyway 3 will not just help those who have reason to travel between the north and south parts of Metro Manila on a daily basis, although of course they will receive the most direct benefit since the road cuts travel time between Buendia and Balintawak from two hours to 15-20 minutes. The Skyway Stage 3 will also help decongest other roads in the city, particularly the perennially overcrowded EDSA – another estimate is that the new road will divert around 50,000 vehicles from EDSA daily. Even if you never drive along the Skyway 3, if you use EDSA or other major thoroughfares in the city, you will benefit from its existence.

Traffic in EDSA was really terrible, especially during rush hour. We have seen so many memes of “carmageddon” in EDSA, where motorists are trapped for as long as six hours, or even more. Daily conversations at work and social gatherings would frequently start with small talk about the traffic situation and how horrible EDSA traffic was. But what people were waiting for is a plan – a plan to decongest EDSA and a plan that will actually be implemented and completed. It seemed impossible then.

When President Duterte occupied office, one of his marching orders was to see to it that traffic in Metro Manila would be decongested as the economy is losing billions of pesos daily because of the traffic in EDSA alone. In a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) report released in 2012, it was stated that the Philippines lost P2.4 billion a day due to traffic congestion in Metro Manila. Six years after, a study conducted by JICA found that the amount of losses due to traffic in Metro Manila has increased to up to P3.5 billion per day. Now, road usage in Metro Manila is at about 13.4 million trips per day and could go as high as 16.1 million in 17 years. Absent any infrastructure intervention, economic losses could reach up to P5.4 billion in 2035. This was something the Duterte Administration vowed to address and provide a solution to. The Build-Build-Build team lost no time in making this “impossible dream” happen.

The Skyway project was first conceptualized during the administration of Fidel V. Ramos and construction of Skyway Stage 1 started on April 7, 1995. However, it was not until 2014 when the Skyway Stage 3 was commenced. Since 2014 until Secretary Villar became the DPWH secretary in 2016, completion of the Skyway Stage 3 project was at only 11 percent, broken down as follows – 2.36 percent construction completion and 8.64 percent site possession.

The project is an elevated expressway from Buendia, Makati City to the North Luzon Expressway in Balintawak, Quezon City with a length of about 17  kilometers. When completed, it will have 2x3 lanes from Buendia to Sgt. Rivera corner A. Bonifacio, Quezon City; 2x2 lanes from Sgt. Rivera corner A. Bonifacio to NLEX Balintawak, Quezon City; and 2x3 lanes in an elevated roadway structure that will connect to the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road Project in the vicinity of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Sta. Mesa, Manila. While there were some initial issues with right of way, the alignment of sections of the project was revised to traverse alternative routes along the San Juan River, and that section of the road (the Tomas Claudio-Ramon Magsaysay Avenue Section) has been substantially completed. The DPWH was also able to negotiate well for the relocation of NGCP and Meralco assets along the route. Prior to 2017 almost none of the 47 National Grid Corporation poles had been relocated.

At Secretary Villar’s initiative, a fifth segment was introduced to the northern end of the project from Balintawak Cloverleaf before EDSA to connect to the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), in order to avoid traffic congestion along A. Bonifacio Street and EDSA. This section is also almost complete.

Of course, the quarantines that were implemented in response to the COVID-19 outbreak had some negative effect on construction, but since then progress has continued steadily. On Dec. 29 of last year, the main trunk line from Buendia to Balintawak was allowed to have a soft opening, and the on-off ramps – and the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3 as a whole – are expected to be completed by the middle of this year, ideally around June.

If all goes well, the completed Skyway Stage 3 will be a big help in improving travel times between the north and south of Metro Manila, helping to relieve the congestion brought about by the large number of vehicles on the road. While traffic may seem to have become less of a pressing issue because of community quarantine limitations and remote work/school arrangements, that’s not really the case. We need to begin to prepare for what comes after the country returns to the hustle and bustle of yesteryear, and taking this time to improve our public infrastructure and make a drive to finish long-term projects is the right move.

Completing the Skyway Stage 3 has been a hard journey, but with the political will, determination and hard work of the Build-Build-Build team and the entire Duterte Administration, traveling from Makati to Balintawak in 15 minutes is no longer an impossible dream.

DPWH SKYWAY 3
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