With less than 30 serious working days left before the Christmas holidays, we don't expect any miracles in material infrastructure productivity. After close to 3 years of overhauling government's procurement systems, Daang Matuwid's only PPP road infrastructure launched was last year's Daan Hari expressway, which was bagged by Ayala Corp. It suffered from snags as the DPWH plans did not factor in the SLEx's future expansion to 10 lanes and the specifications for a tunnel. Losing bidders could mount a challenge for a re-bid. The SCTEx-NLEx integration remains stalled after 3 years, and despite improvements and an approved toll hike, the TRB has not yet adjusted SCTEx and SLEx tolls for a year. The LRT-1 extension bidding has been postponed many times. Contracting for the upgrade and capacity expansion of MRT-3 is still mired as accidents mount. A joint station for MRT-3 and LRT-1 with access to the upcoming LRT-7 has stalled too, so the dream of a 'seamless' light rail loop for urban Metro-Manila remains a dream. Compounded by corruption heaped upon corruption, the Northrail project has finally been buried at a big penalty cost to government. While the NLEx-SLEx connector awaits its Swiss Challenge and Skyway Stage 3 or the Citra-PNCC Alignment has yet to break ground, C-5, the only existing and passable alternative ring road to EDSA, remains blockaded by squatters' buildings 300m from the ramp of the no longer brand new Katipunan flyover.
Lots of activity, but...
As cities throughout the archipelago mirror the Metro's Christmas rush, traffic panaceas and malls, DPWH continues to pave new and repave old roads. The TPLEx may open next year, but only up to Gerona and only as a single carriageway. DOTC has not stopped approving procurment contracts to improve airports like Puerto Princessa and Bohol. Cebu's BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] system is pushing through with French assistance though major right of way problems remain unsolved. To the chagrin of the DOT's tourism overtures and international expansion of PAL and Cebu Pacific, the persistent and late underinvestment in our airports' operations, safety and security keeps departures from our airports from landing at major European and American destinations.
Bright stars and dying stars
While NAIA's navigational equipment totters, the meteoric rise in passenger through put at DMIA in Clark has shown how woefully inadequate operations and facilities are in handling with the crush of both international and domestic arrivals/departures. Its quite a contrast in the way the Clark Economic Zone's network of roads and LED traffic lights have now surpassed Subic having passed its prime when Chairman Payumo was SBMA Administrator. Having been abandoned by failed investors/locators, Subic, no longer exudes the enthusiasm of Clark. With its revenues squeezed, the SBMA, instead of expanding incentives to invite investors, has resorted to raising the CUSA [association dues] to howls of protests from locators and the pending exit of current investors. With this downtrend in activity, comes reduced revenues for the Mabalacat-Tipo section of the SCTEx. All the more reason for Malacanang to allow BCDA to proceed with the integration of SCTEx to NLEx so that NLEx revenues can subsidize SCTEx.
Some good news
Though the red blinking LED's of the Motorsiklo lane may be fading in sympathy with the blue lane markings on EDSA's pavement, 2012 will end with a positive balance of the MMDA's traffic fine tuning programs. Included in this list is the enforcement of city buses keeping only the EDSA yellow lane while provincial buses are allowed on thru-traffic flyovers. Suspension and disciplinary action against accident prone bus companies like Nova continue. Undoubtedly, the new Farmer's Market bound U-turn on the EDSA-P. Tuazon overpass has helped ease bus journey turnaround in Cubao although ever since construction began and ended, the EDSA-P. Tuazon underpass seems to flood sooner and more often than the older EDSA-Cubao underpass. Still, it doesn't take rocket science to figure that there are 1.] still too many buses on EDSA spilling into the car lanes and 2.] the proliferation of bus terminals in Cubao stymies any attempt to improve traffic flow through Cubao. We don't hear much about speeding arrests in the LIDAR enforced speed limit zones in Commonwealth and Macapagal Avenue, but we hope its because motorists have learned their lesson and not because of reduced traffic enforcement vigilance. Meanwhile, E-tagging of PUJs has begun in order to ferret out colorum jeepneys.
Malls and bus drivers
Transiting Quezon Avenue and Araneta Avenue nowadays is a breeze now that the underpass complex has been commissioned, though traffic on Araneta Avenue is bound to be affected once Skyway Stage 3 starts pile boring on the median. DPWH concrete blocking operations continue while SM's malls contribute to traffic easing by providing extensive all weather bus loading bays and superb parking buildings on its own real estate. Sadly, it will take far more time for many bus drivers to learn how to appreciate how to properly use the SM City bus stop, as congestion builds up daily even past 900PM. And it just so happens that the 90 day Christmas season congregates on these giant malls.
By year's end EDSA will have more of the giant traffic information electronic billboard gantries to compete with the ever multiplying commercial electronic billboards on the side. Simple solutions to alert motorists of traffic channelling islands like knee height orange batons and chequered drums have replaced some of the flashing yellow LED lamps and yellow-black reflective zebra panels. We hope these new safety visibility enhancers stay on the road a bit longer. The TNAV real time internet traffic map of the Metro's major arteries has been a big help for motorists and we hope it soon permanently includes the NLEx and Skyway.
More blinking LEDs?
Against all odds [drought, pollution, jaywalkers, etc.], MMDA's landscapers have successfully nurtured,the median shrubbery under the LRT-1 from Balintawak to Roosevelt. Quite tempting to garland the greenery in twinkling LED's for the Christmas season. Better not, unless its guarded 24/7 from vandals and thieves.
Hope for another time
Though inclined to look at the glass half full, the positive mood brimming two and half years ago raised expectations. And as with heightened expectations come brooding disappointment as most of the infrastructure accomplishments, hyped ad nauseam, are not thick on the ground considering what was shovel ready 3 years ago. The loss of opportunity momentum and failure to significantly move forward and actually build is indeed a very high price to pay while government continues to study, tinker and overhaul its procurement system, as their press release says. As if publicity equates to legitimacy. This government has delivered on other kinds of promises, i.e. catching corrupt deals, impeaching and imprisoning political enemies, shaming and ridiculing them to our immigrant brothers and sisters, etc. If only it channeled the same zeal, energy and determination in moving our infrastructure forward from Day 01, we wouldn't lament the dearth of physical accomplishment. If the former contracts were flawed, then 'Daang Matuwid' should have straightened it out AND made up for lost time THEN proceeded with actually building something, anything. Instead, government, crowed, then rested its laurels on having 'caught' and prosecuted corruption as if it was the main end all and be all accomplishment. But what happened to the infrastructure? With priorities like that, should we still find hope in the next three years? Or better yet, look forward to beyond?