The Grand EDSA Expressway
EDSA expressway; relief or nightmare?
Amidst the flurry of all the go-or-no-go PPP [Public Private Partnership] infrastructure projects, DPWH has announced its own grand infrastructure project: the EDSA Expressway. The plans covers 22kms. of EDSA from Monumento to Taft. The choices of how to do it were pretty grand too; either a Smart Tunnel, which doubles as a drainage outfall like KL's Smart Tunnels or a 3x3 dual carriageway Skyway stacked above the LRT-1-MRT. Extrapolating the costs of construction of Skyway Stage 2, the bill is expectedly a humungous PHP60B, but by virtue of EDSA being the only contiguous through route connecting North and South Luzon, it needs to double or even or even triple its road capacity within the term of President B. S. C. Aquino.
Engineering the plans is just the tip of the iceberg. Being a DPWH project, it is purely a construction project. As to it paying off in economic terms, that's up to the NEDA ICC to determine. As to its paying off from the investment of National funds, that's up to the DOF to figure out. As to finding the money to pay for it, well there was this huge savings from not spending that much on infrastructure last year. As for the unimaginable traffic it would cause, well that is MMDA's Chairman Tolentino and Tina Velasco's problem. As for flood drainage, leave it to the local government to deal with what disasters it triggers. Just like in the concrete re-blocking of Naguilian Road in Baguio, where damaged and clogged drainage pipes allegedly caused the excess rainfall to divert and cascade to the Irisan garbage dump with catastrophic results. Imagine though if this was a PPP project: all those concerns that are the purview of the other government arms are all in the hands of the private sector project proponent.
While the plans are still in the drawing stage, they should consider lots of other details. For the Skyway version, with interchanges for Cubao, Greenhills and Makati, the budget should cover expropriation of really expensive real estate for the on-ramps and off-ramps. As it is, BIR Zonal valuations in Greenhills, Urdaneta and Forbes Park are sky high. These ramps are going to be very high considering the Skyway has to clear the LRT-MRT stations. Which means expropriation of more real expensive real estate for the side columns along EDSA's length, because with the MRT, there is no longer any space for median columns.
As for the Smart Tunnel, most of EDSA is on high ground save for the MOA end by the Bay and the Monumento end which abuts barely above-sea level Caloocan. EDSA's floods are caused by choked rivers and outlets that lead to the Bay and not because of EDSA being below sea-level, so a Tunnel is quite feasible. There's solid rock on most of its route, but this will need imported mega-burrowing technologies like the kind used for Alpine tunnels and the Euro Tunnel. China has lots of these giant machines.
Traffic? With C-5 half complete, C-6 only one/sixth done and C-3 hopelessly congested, especially with the easy flooding Araneta Ave.-Quezon Ave. grade separation project, there are no alternate routes to EDSA. The NLEx-Skyway connector hasn't even been approved yet.
Then there is the cost. Don't let the pseudo-economist populist pleasing politicians fool you. Any mega buck project funded by the National Treasury is paid for by all 100 million Filipinos, even if not all of them pay taxes. Its disingenuous to say that since Metro Manila tax payers [mostly Manila based corporations] constitute the bulk of net taxes paid, Metro Manila is exclusively footing the bill for projects like the EDSA Expressway and the MRT subsidy. Every one in the country is paying for this, whether one derives a direct benefit or not.
The EDSA Expressway project may sap most of the DPWH's budget which may lead it to crowd out or neglect the other regions. As it is, the DPWH can only build so many town/city by-passes as uncontrolled urban development chokes many highways that go through our fast growing towns and cities. Moreover, DPWH has to fight so many legal battles when paying for Road-right-of-way. Will the EDSA Expressway project and the similar Roxas Boulevard Skyway take money away from decongesting towns and cities across the nation? But then, buying road right of way isn't as newsworthy as building a mega buck expressway.
Make no mistake, the EDSA Expressway is proof that government is still capable of planning huge infrastructure projects. More so as proposed by DPWH because ever since the DOTC was spun off from the DPWH 40 years ago, it has been the DOTC which has been grabbing the headlines with mega buck infrastructure projects.
DPWH should study what happened to the old Interstate 93 elevated Freeway that passed through Boston, Massachusetts. It caused so much urban blight that it divided the city. When the Massachusetts decided to tear it down and make it a tunnel [called the "Big Dig"] it took more than 25 years, cost USD 22 billion and though traffic flow improved somewhat, at least the urban blight was gone.
At this stage, we don't know if the EDSA Expressway will be a toll road. Any private business man can project that the toll for this PHP60B road would be very high. Matters about charging toll are the purview of the Toll Regulatory Board of the DOTC. If it is franchised to a private concessionaire we have the STAR tollway as an example to look to. As it is, the STAR Tollway will need a huge growth in traffic volumes or far higher tolls to generate income to accelerate its upgrading to at least ASEAN Expressway standards. The other DPWH example is Kennon Road. Its the only toll road operated and maintained by the DPWH. For all the weather related geological drama it generates, the toll they charge for excitement at every turn is dirt cheap.
But shouldn't DPWH finish acquiring the right of way for the whole of C-5, C-6 and the little bits needed for the NLEx-Skyway connector first? Then pass it on to the private sector to BOT [or PPP] and finish the missing links into toll roads? These circumferential roads should be finished first before again tearing up EDSA's shoulders and median. This way, traffic that passes through EDSA that will be displaced by the EDSA Expressway project has 3 alternate routes, and not those tired New Manila roads rechristened as Mabuhay Lanes. They were barely adequate in the 70s when the Cubao EDSA and Shaw EDSA underpass were built.
Perhaps, the DPWH is better off passing on expressway projects like these to the PPP and concentrate on adding more roads to relieve towns where traffic has been congested for too long. This way, DPWH can still go for the EDSA Expressway project with not much of its budget diverted and without giving the MMDA such a big traffic headache.