‘Rich’ province, where’s the expressway?

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Just like most people during this long holiday, my wife and I travelled to my hometown in the province to observe All Saints' Day and pay our respects to our dearly departed loved ones. We left a couple of hours past noon, expecting to arrive within an hour or two at most, anticipating a smooth flow of traffic due to the holiday.

However, we were mistaken. The drive north of Cebu to Catmon took over three hours, and we arrived just as the sun was beginning to set. The culprit was the slow-moving, almost gridlocked traffic along the national highway in Liloan, the one near a large private cemetery.

I'm sure the local government of Liloan had prepared for the expected congestion; indeed, I saw several traffic enforcers along the route and road signs attempting to ease the heavy flow of private vehicles going in and out of the cemetery. However, that situation was poorly managed from the start, and no amount of traffic alleviation measures could salvage the sorry state of affairs if the ingress and egress to and from the cemetery were limited only to the existing roads, without opening alternative routes through the interior areas.

The situation prompted me to reflect on our so-called status as the richest province in the Philippines, which, frankly, I don’t see reflected in our most basic needs, like the design of our transport infrastructure. In fairness, perhaps the local government unit (LGU) is not making such a boast; it could be just reporters headlining a Commission on Audit report about the assets and liabilities of LGUs.

But seeing the words 'richest province' in headlines leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I'm stuck in traffic on a national road in this northern area of Cebu, a corridor bursting with economic promise. The term 'richest' or even 'rich' does not sit well with the obvious lack of vision and urgent action from our leaders, both at the local and national levels.

I’m referring to the fact that, up to now, the main artery leading to northern Cebu still lacks an expressway, toll skyway, circumferential road, or whatever thoroughfare that would allow private and public vehicles to bypass the congested main roads and head directly to their destinations up north.

In fact, the matter had been studied many years ago, and timelines for development were recommended. Under a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study published in 2015, Danao City in the north and Naga City in the south were identified as recommended growth poles adjacent to the core area, which is composed of Cebu City, Mandaue City, and Lapu-Lapu City (The Roadmap Study for Sustainable Urban Development in Metro Cebu, June 2015).

However, the road stretching from Naga to Danao has long been recognized as heavily congested. To stimulate employment and growth in key sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, tourism, and industry, it is crucial to reduce travel time and expenses for the coastal towns of northeastern and central Cebu.

Given the proliferation of structures along main roads, road widening has become impractical, making road-right-of-way acquisitions prohibitively expensive. The Department of Public Works and Highways recommends the construction of new circumferential roads and expressways as a more viable solution. The need for an alternative to road widening is underscored by a JICA study team's proposal, which suggests the creation of an expressway network akin to Metro Manila's NLEX and SLEX.

There are, in fact, supposedly plans for a North Cebu Coastal Road and a Second Cebu South Road. These projects should start soon and be completed within the decade. The Mandaue Coastal Road, spanning 4.9 kilometers, and the Tayud Coastal Road should be on the agenda for the medium term, targeted between 2021 and 2030. For the long term, a skyway must be considered. Yet, we are left to wonder: What has become of these recommendations?

From an economic and financial standpoint, securing funding for such large-scale projects should not pose a problem. As I've mentioned previously, the northern corridor of Cebu is brimming with economic potential. The growth of the middle class in the area is evident from the proliferation of private subdivisions, malls, shops, beach and mountain resorts, and other tourist attractions, as well as light and heavy industries, and various economic enterprises. In essence, international creditors and other financial sources should find this region an attractive opportunity for investment. Yet, what is being done so far?

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