Credit where due

Year 2016 will surely be remembered as major motoring related infrastructure and regulations came to fruition. Credit the PPP baby steps of the previous Daang Matuwid administration, and DPWH super secretary Babes Singson. Credit is also due to the current administration which desisted from the tradition of newly elected administrations to “freeze” or suspect progressing projects started by the predecessor administration for whatever whimsy. Goodbye witch hunt, so long stasis and the recycling blame game.

Netizens with dash-cams, rejoice! 

First : the opening of NAIAx 2a and 2b. Vertex, another San Miguel infrastructure arm, has delivered not only major relief for NAIA's aircraft passengers, but also effected a novel major redistribution of traffic flows between South Tollway's Skyway, Quirino Ave., Roxas Blvd., EDSA, Macapagal Ave. and CAVITEx. Netizens were posting dash-cam journeys taking 7 minutes from Parañaque to Makati. Never before had their commute times ever dropped below an hour. More relief comes as the Skyway and CAVITEx links are finished.

Six months into a good start

The NAIAx “ambience”

More interesting is the new shape of highway parapets and median jersey barriers that Vertex introduced for NAIAx. Akin to the higher concrete barriers found on TPLEx's median, the dreaded “flying bus” stunts on the old Skyway will never happen here. These new style barriers will also appear on Skyway Stage 3 and on further upgrades of Skyway Stage 1 and 2. Meantime, many passing motorists have taken a fancy to the neat and numerous LED parapet lights installed on parts of the elevated highway that pass below aircraft take-off and landing flight path. Designed to suppress stray glare to approaching aircraft, Netizens have been swooning about these post-less imbedded lights as streetscape “mood” or “ambient” lightning. If only these sections were longer.

Shades of “Tokyo Drift”?

NAIAx introduces a new kind of driving ambience, familiar to Filipinos who ride with Japanese friends who do midnight “cruising” on Tokyo's 70's era narrow and serpentine high rise expressways when free of truck traffic. Until NAIAx's traffic turns bumper to bumper, this new gateway to and from the South and Southwest Metro becomes a driving destination event in itself. The only downside to the new NAIAx is the inevitable urban blight that visits the at-grade portion. This is a necessary consequence as limited access highways in our Metro have to be elevated as seasonal flooding will cause problems for subterranean highways. Still, creative use of LED lightning can soften the desolation of such urban blight.

Going north?

Up North, TPLEx has already opened the Binalonan interchange thus allowing traffic bound to points North other than Baguio to segregate from Baguio bound traffic that can exit exclusively at the Urdaneta interchange.

Six months into a good start

Catch up after 6 years of stasis

But the bigger news up North is the final ejection of obstructive elements in the BCDA and DoF who prevented the integration of NLEx and SCTEx causing long and multiple toll payment queues for almost all of the years of Daang Matuwid. If it wasn't for the intervention of then Senate President F. Drilon expediting the long delayed integration of the two highways, northbound journeys would still be fraught with an extra two annoyingly long toll payment queues. Besides eliminating the Dau and Mabiga-Mabalacat toll barriers, EasyTrip is now operational on all 3 MNTC expressways – NLEx, SCTEx and SFEx. We hope San Miguel's TPLEx joins the ETC [electronic toll collection] bandwagon, soon.

Constant improvement 

Holiday-makers who go North will enjoy the new 3x3 carriageways from Sta. Rita, Candaba Viaduct and San Fernando, banishing the long and accident prone traffic queues that befall every exodus and reentry to the Metro. Also, MNTC has finally fulfilled PNCC's 1981 dream of having two carriageways, north bound from Balem to Sta. Inez. A new and expanded Bocaue Toll plaza has practically doubled the toll collection lanes for all Manila Bound traffic. Valenzuela and Meycauayan will get auxiliary exits to relieve rush hour congestion at the main interchanges. Balintawak cloverleaf and Malinta interchange have just commissioned huge subterranean cisterns capable of impounding flash floodwaters that block traffic.

Sec. Villar must deliver the RROW

Bigger things are in store; the NLEx Harbor link, the Harbor link extension straight into the piers, the NLEx-SLEx metro link connector to Skyway stage 3 PUP interchange, etc. At the northern end, NLEx Sta. Inez interchange will get a major reconfiguration, and so will the SCTEx-NLEx Balem interchange. The SCTEx Mabiga interchange will be converted to full access exit/entry and the U-turn slot in the median will be removed. SFEx will also undergo lane expansion, negating the need for SBMA to build a 25.0km bypass highway from the port to Tipo. With or without emergency powers, DPWH Secy. Villar is now challenged to speed up ALL RROW purchases for up and running projects, specially for PUP Skyway Stage 3, the metro link connector and the C-5 extensions.

Six months into a good start

Back to MMDA's extensive experience

Over at the Metro, the MMDA, now under the iACT traffic superbody, has reconfigured the abundant Jersey barriers and bollards, bounty from the 2015 APEC summit. Today's MMDA has revalidated the traffic easing priorities of the then MMDA Chair, Bayani Fernando. First to go were the wholesale bollard blockades of merging lanes that did reduce traffic travel times on EDSA but at the great cost of doubling or tripling transit times through the main avenues that cross EDSA.

Case in point: the ill advised bollard blockade from EDSA-Annapolis to EDSA-Ortigas which exacted constant near-standstill traffic all day on Ortigas Ave. By November, the new MMDA chieftain, Tim Orbos, ordered the bollard blockade lifted and commute times normalized.

Controlling buses in Cubao 

Another instance where the new MMDA management was able to resolve a major traffic issue was in EDSA Cubao. In the “bad” old days, Christmas season and School openings resulted in EDSA Cubao bound traffic standstill reaching as far north as 680 Home Appliances at the 900AM climax of the morning peak hour. By October 2016, the traffic standstill began at Trinoma MRT station, making it plus 3.0kms longer! But within the first day of the MMDA's redeployment of its own traffic enforcers and rejig of provincial bus entry times, the traffic standstill reverted to the old pattern i.e. queue begins at 680 Home Appliances.

Misallocated resources?

We were always of the opinion that PNP-HPG officers were overqualified to be just on-street traffic enforcers, and neither was traffic planning heavily emphasized in their Criminology led curriculum. Now, the bulk of the PNP-HPG have been re-assigned to keep the Mabuhay lanes clear as MMDA traffic planners have revised some rerouting plans that were instituted in late 2015, but were previously proven to be ineffective in relieving traffic.

Six months into a good start

LTO snafus, rectified 

Without getting into extra-legal means and short-cuts, iACT and DoTr, even without emergency powers, have put some order on the maintenance and operations of the Metro's main light transit rail lines, the LTO's long stranded electronic data processing, rehash of the license plastic card supply contract and the rebid of the new license plate's major redistribution.

A few good men 

The strong and decisive economic triumvirate of DoF Secy. Dominguez, DBM Secy. Diokno, NEDA Secy. Pernia are well equipped to lead this renewed infrastructure program. Curiously and in contrast to the previous administration, the trio prefers to lean less on PPP and even cancelled PPP's ridiculously expensive “Premium” in order to have major infrastructure projects built by the government, though bided out to the private construction companies. Only when finished, can Operations & Maintenance long term contracts be bided out to the private sector, similar to what FVR did to the STAR tollway.

The DU30 Duterte election campaign promise was about “change is coming”. And it has been a dizzying pace of change for the first six months of the “mayor's” administration. A great start indeed.