Every day, every week, every evening rush hour. It's the same interminable traffic jams at both East and West service roads between Sucat, Bicutan and Sales/NAIA junctions of the Skyway. Those diamond interchanges are just not up to it. The traffic build up caused by multiple traffic conflicts - 40 in Bicutan alone - at those intersections spill into both the at-grade and elevated Skyway.
The solution in the works is an unsolicited proposal from Citra Metro Manila Skyway called the Merville Interchange Feeder Road or MIFR. Estimated to cost 3.1B, this 3 km partly elevated 2x2 highway shadows the C-5 extension from SLEx to CAVITEx alongside Multinational village, skirts the NAIA perimeter and connects via 2 interchanges, Merville and Moonwalk, to Skyway at-grade, elevated and C-5 extension while providing access and traffic relief to East and West service roads. MIFR will greatly reduce the number of vehicles leaving the distribution hubs and condominium clusters of the area while providing relief to vehicles accessing Skyway at Sales, Bicutan and Sucat. MIFR is also planned to accommodate the estimated 5,000 buses that will use the upcoming FTI transport hub. MIFR includes a 10-lane toll plaza in front of Nomads soccer field, between Merville and Moonwalk and augments Skyway SOMCo's on-going addition of exit lanes at Sales, NAIA and C-5 exits. Scheduled to finish in 24months from the time pile boring starts, all this much needed traffic relief needs is TRB approval and a nudge from Malacanang.
A perfect world
Well and good. In a perfect world where government or the public sector welcomes, with open arms, every private sector initiative to finance and build infrastructure when government itself is too busy to innovate and think out-of-the-box, too busy trying to be accountable, too busy codifying guidelines, too busy investigating itself, etc. etc.
BOT/BLT, the original
This was the idea behind BOT [Build-Operate-Transfer] and its permutation, BLT [Build-Lease-Transfer]. There's really nothing new with the private sector taking over the role of the public sector as infrastructure provider. At the turn of the 20th century, the Brits started the MRR or the Manila Rail Road, the country's main railway. MERALCO built and operated the Tranvias, the country's first LRT. Harry Stonehill started reclaiming Manila Bay.
Good deal vs. raw deals
But for every BOT/BLT success story – NLEx in 2005, Skyway in 1999, SLEx in 2010, SFEx in 1998, SCTEx in 2008 - there have been bad deals, raw deals and a lot of burned bridges - NAIA 3, MRT-3, Northrail and the early years of STAR and the Coastal Expressway.
The current administration is particularly piqued at lose-lose deals like NAIA 3 or lop sided ones - in favor of the private sector proponent - like the MRT, not to mention numerous supply contracts from power generating plants. Bear in mind that even if the blame lies in either the Marcos or Cory government or even both, the Ramos and Erap administrations did not enjoy the credit ratings and investment grades that our country enjoys today. Perhaps all those alleged giveaway deals with guaranteed return for all those power and utility projects during the Nineties made us that attractive to investors and creditors.
Guilty until proven innocent
Determined not to let any PPP project succumb to such disadvantage, today's government has begun to eye unsolicited proposals from the private sector with suspicion. Thus, today, tarred with such a broad brush, even the best of intentions from private sector initiative gets tied down with the grilling of public sector scrutiny. Because of this current administration's crusade against lop sided contracts, the jaundiced eyes at the PPP office and the DOTC are gaining a reputation for postponements due to analysis paralysis.
Delay with suspicion
This conclusion or judgement cannot be helped considering the endless delays for mass transit rail projects and approvals for toll fee adjustments, the NLEx Connector, Skyway stage 3, C-6 Metro Manila Expressway from Bicutan to Marilao, NLEEx from Commonwealth through La Mesa watershed and on to Norzagaray, and the SCTEx-NLEx-SFEx integration. Leading the observant to conclude that government treats all BOT/BLT projects, suspect.
NAIA vs. JFK
Some two years ago, Ramon S. Ang, PAL's COO, proposed PAL's own USD 6B airport to augment nearby NAIA and to avoid Clark which couldn't effectively augment NAIA because the all important rail link is stuck in the planning stage. But instead of encouraging PAL to take over where the public sector could not provide, DOTC objected to airports being built, owned and operated by airlines as being disadvantageous to competition. Don't they know that busy JFK airport in New York City has terminals built, owned and operated by the airlines themselves?
Recently, DOTC has asked JICA to fund a study for an alternate airport to NAIA, in Sangley Point, the very same area that RSA mulled for PAL's own airport. So what gives?
All this shouldn't really surprise. At the more immediate grassroots level, response and sensitivity to the end-user public is turning for the worse. The recent exit of Atty. Yves Gonzales at MMDA presaged a return to the command and control draconian days when Bayani Fernando last presided over the metropolitan agency.
It would seem that the narrow minded cop think - in order to solve the traffic mess, ban private cars - has regained ascendancy. This is the martial mentality that created today's color coding. MMDA adheres to this as gospel truth, despite government's own findings that there are four times the number of buses allowed on EDSA.
This myopia can border on blindness. Witness the am/pm rush hour closure of the EDSA Buendia U-turn slot which has displaced Kalayaan/Fort bound traffic to further congest the at-grade Ayala EDSA U-turn slot. As if the buses didn't block that vital intersection every am/pm rush hour already.
It's seven into three
Ostensibly done to ease traffic build up on Guadalupe bound EDSA, its apparent that traffic bunching occurs here not because of traffic U-turning under the Buendia-Kalayaan flyover. The squeeze or chicane on the Guadalupe bound side is caused by traffic from the 2 lanes coming from Ayala flyover – with buses forced to merge right into the PUB lane -, 2 lanes from Mckinley at-grade and 3 lanes from Ayala tunnel, or a total of 7 lanes of traffic jostling, merging and squeezing into the 3 lanes just approaching Forbes Park Buendia gate. Which is some 50m BEFORE the EDSA Buendia U turn. Have the traffic authorities been blind or have they failed to understand the relationship of cause to effect?
And the list goes on. Shutting down Don Bosco street and half or Arnaiz Ave. along the SLEx for a drainage improvement culvert has resulted in heavy traffic on the Skyway both at grade and elevated everyday.
Was there any initiative or foresight to simulate the dire consequences of these road closures? Who is responsible? Who is in charge? Is the citizenry supposed to behave like PMA cadets who just say Amen to unjust hazing?
But there is good news. Although mostly single carriageway and reaching only up to Gerona, TPLEx has had its dry run/soft opening during the Barangay election/Nov. 01 long weekends. Skyway Stage 3, now divided into four sections – Sec. 01 Buendia to Nagtahan/PUP, Sec. 02 Nagtahan/PUP to Aurora, Sec. 03 Aurora to Quezon Ave. and Sec. 04 Quezon Ave. to Balintawak – will be built simultaneously if Citra is allowed to fast track the project. Citra is in coordinating traffic control measures with the affected local government units. The remaining leg of Skyway Stage 01, from Zobel Roxas to Quirino Ave., on top of Osmena Ave. section of SLEx will form part of the common alignment with the NLEx connector. Construction for this section will commence after the New Year. Meantime MNTC is already building NLEx Segment 9 from Smart Connect cloverleaf to MacArthur Highway, Valenzuela. This will proceed to NLEx Segment 10 or so-called Harbor Link which will form part of the NLEx connector over the PNR rail right of way. Daang Hari expressway is not moving as fast because several interchange design changes need to include SLEx widening to 5x5 lanes.
Lead from the front
In the end, the best example of private initiative, of taking charge, of knowing where the buck stops, of being in the line of fire, etc. is the President himself. In Nur's Civil War by proxy in Zamboanga, Pnoy himself was at the battlefield. Despite the presence of experienced DND officials and meticulous DILG executives, he did not leave the front line until the last pockets of resistance were neutered. If only Pnoy took this hands-on approach to build and manage his legacy as the infrastructure/PPP president. There's less than three years left for him to do so.