Addressing public anxieties
At this Administration's half term, let us hope that delivering winning votes to party mates in another typically colorful and impassioned election does not distract the Government from delivering to us a lasting infrastructure legacy in three years' time.
Spinmeisters at work
Disregarding statistics and press releases spun to project a glow of success this election year, necessary decisions and compromise agreements to keep transport and transport infrastructure moving forward have indeed been made. This hopefully signals the end of the nearly three year stasis that resulted from the incoming Administration's intense vetting, 'cleansing' and renegotiating of projects approved by previous Administrations.
The year of the LED?
At least the MMDA is off to a good start. LED lights now shine from the lampposts of the EDSA Ayala flyover. This portion of EDSA, flanked by North Forbes and Urdaneta, exclusive enclaves of the wealthy, has finally seen the light. And to think this short stretch has been mostly dark since the Oil Crisis of 1979. Would 2013 be the year of the LED, whether solar powered warning blinkers on EDSA or illuminated traffic signs, like those found on the Skyway?
Buses and trucks
Elsewhere along EDSA, bus stops have been refurbished, color coded and route designated. The Rockwell flyover turns 2-way in the mornings; a brilliant but simple idea. On a recent late night weekday cruise, there were still a couple of stray freight trucks that may not have heard of the 24/7 EDSA truck ban. A posse of MMDA officers duly caught them under the GMA-7 MRT station. But further up north, a trio of empty dump trucks were racing each other from Trinoma to Balintawak.
PPP, moving on
The SLEx concessionaire has already agreed to the design changes for the Daan Hari Expressway, the 1st PPP project won by Ayala Corp. The private investors of the MRT will be bought out by the government. The MRT-7 rail project has been revived by the NEDA and the DoF, while the Pasig River Ferry is being revived by the DOTC. A unified automatic train fare collection system is up for grabs, as a PPP. The revenues and construction cost sharing of the 5.0km Connector-Skyway Stage 3 common alignment between Polytechnic U and Buendia Skyway has been resolved as the NLEx connector goes to Swiss Challenge stage. The 42.0km CaLa [Cavite-Laguna] expressway from Mamplasan SLEx to CAVITEx is up for bidding.
Alternate to death highway
The 24.61km Plaridel Bypass Road, now being built by the DPWH to traverse Balagtas, Guiguinto, Plaridel, Bustos and San Rafael, all in Bulacan, will be upgraded into a PPP toll expressway project. This project should reduce the road accidents and fatalities that befall truckers that transit Daang Maharlika in Bulacan, the major agricultural produce route of Region 2.
Bus Rapid transit
The Manila-Makati-Pasay-Parañaque Mass Transit/bus rapid transit loop interconnecting the four cities starting from C5-32nd Street, Global City to EDSA-Buendia-Makati Avenue-Ayala Triangle-Buendia, crossing the PNR Buendia Station, LRT 1 Buendia Station to CCP Complex and Mall of Asia is upcoming. The PNR's extensions to Tarlac-San Jose up north and Calamba-Batangas in the south is next, along with the long overdue 105-km transmission pipeline of the Batangas-Manila Natural Gas Pipeline Project I (BatMan I).
But, wait a minute...
Yet, there are still lots of 'low hanging fruit' that have not been acted on. Such delays aggravate suspicions that the Administration is not genuinely business friendly and belie commitment to a level playing field. Some previously awarded projects are being seemingly revoked and reconfigured to bump up the number of shovel ready PPP projects.
And waiting too long...
The NAIA Skyway, awarded to Citra Metro Manila Skyway by the TRB several years ago is being relaunched as a PPP, though its bidding has been postponed several times. Up north, BCDA continues paying interest for the loan that built the SCTEx as the Palace hasn't OK'd the turnover of SCTEx to Metro Pacific Tollways who will take over debt servicing and integrate SCTEx operations and expenses as it runs NLEx. Long overdue toll hike adjustments for the SCTEx, STAR and SLEx imposes an unfair financial burden on private investors which delays and discourages further investment into existing infrastructure.
More waiting, but at whose expense?
Despite the Palace's approval of the two cross-Metro elevated expressways [NLEx connector and Skyway Stage 3], Citra Metro Manila Skyway hasn't been given the green light to start pile boring on C-3. Unlike the NLEx connector, Skyway Stage 3 does not have to wait for a Swiss Challenge and for NLEx Segment 9 [MacArthur Highway link] and NLEx Segment 10 [Harbor and Letre link] to simultaneously finish in order to create a seamless North-South connection. This long wait will delay the current Administration's own wishes to have at least one of these EDSA alternate routes up and running by the end of its term.
Open by Holy Week?
Bright side? Northbound travelers can look forward to the June opening of the 46.8km Tarlac to Carmen phase 1 of TPLEx, which was started in the previous Administration. Perhaps, PIDCo, the TPLEx proponent, can open the Tarlac segment, at least, in time for the Holy Week exodus, akin to what the BCDA did for the SCTEx in 2008? Its probably worth the motoring public's votes.
The end of concrete blocking?
Back to the Metro grind, by May, post elections, EDSA's traffic and existing labyrinthine alternate routes will reach paralysis as EDSA gets an end to end asphalt overlay, plans of which have been around since Mel Mathay up to Bayani Fernando. The proposed roller coaster of a skyway from EDSA Malibay to Roxas Blvd is sure to confound planners for the BCDA monorail and the NAIA-DMIA Airport Rail Link. Priority should be given to genuine EDSA alternatives like C-5, but the C-5 Commonwealth flyover ramp continues to be blocked by squatters.
One track mind
The thinking class's apprehensions stems from the tendency of Filipino chieftain/managers to focus too tightly on one target, in this case with 'all hands on deck' to win the coming elections. The business of day-to-day governing becomes collateral or subsidiary to this, complicated further by existing laws that prevent infrastructure projects being started under the guise of 'electioneering'. Aggravating fears is the tendency for government's left hand unknowing of what the right hand is doing. For instance, it claims to welcome and attract foreign investment, and duly trumpets every trip abroad and every quotable quote from every foreign visitor, but necessary changes to the Charter, guidelines and laws to make them genuinely attractive to investment are resisted, usually for nationalistic reasons.
Management by election
Arguing against foreign investors in favor of nationalistic priorities, sometimes smells of bigotry, have been proven wrong by Thailand and Singapore's example where foreign investors thrive at no loss to the host country's national pride. Besides, wasn't it Orwell who defined nationalism as 'power-hunger tempered by self-deception'? It has never been the ideal to run a country with eyes focused solely on winning elections only to be beholden to the powerful lobbies who deliver the votes.