Members of the Press report that our current President Aquino, like many Filipinos, enjoy driving on the SCTEx. Since, like many of us, he doesn't use the "wang wang", stops at red lights and toll barriers he can commiserate with our concerns. All the more reason we hope that he encourages the BCDA to speed up the EC-Tag toll collection integration and interoperability with the NLEx. And even if he may not be such a fan of vacationing in Baguio City the way most of the previous Presidents were, P-Noy should now push for the expressway to reach Rosario, La Union.
Three years ago, the near completion of the SCTEx in some three years time had all Baguio and Pagudpud journey makers excited about the prospect of the next step: the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway or TPLEx. Promises of 3 hour all expressway dual carriageway travel from Manila to Baguio were soon popping up in vacation home development brochures in the City of Pines. But to this day, there have been three postponed attempts of former President Arroyo to inaugurate ground breaking of the first segment, a short, single carriageway section from La Paz to Gerona.
If the SCTEx encountered resistance from the DPWH, troublesome owners during the right of way acquisitions, bad mouthing from local contractors that did not get sub-contracts from the principal Japanese contractors appointed by JBIC, the project financier of the SCTEx- the TPLEx was no less tortured. Since the TPLEx involves the DPWH as the right of way acquisitions arm, BCDA had to yield to political pressure from towns in Tarlac and Pangasinan who feared a loss of commerce if the TPLEx diverted traffic too far from their unbearably trafficked towns on MacArthur Highway. Thus the TPLEx ended up being parallel to the MacArthur highway or Highway 3. The opportunity to pass through cheaper real estate through Nueva Ecija and provide expressway access to the truckers of Cagayan Valley was lost. It would have decongested the single carriageway Maharlika highway where truck accidents are legion.
Unless San Miguel Infrastructure/Northern Thoroughfares can tap China's overseas infrastructure loans with similar terms and interest as JBIC's loans to BCDA, the way the SCTEx was funded, the TPLEx will remain a brochure come-on. The problem of the TPLEx project is that it looks like a mere construction project. It does have a toll operation/management provision, originally farmed out to TMC, the current SCTEx and NLEx operator, but since finance is so tight and the first proposed section to Gerona, a little over 20kms long is only going to be single carriageway, it lacks the ambition-vision that attracts mega-buck foreign finance.
Its in the presentation, stu...
Presented as a long term mega-project - say like San Miguel Infrastructure's plan to extend the TPLEx to Pagudpud with a high speed rail component plus hopefully Q-tel fiber optic networks - would have been the kind of project that would attract long term development financiers like JBIC or other Chinese government infrastructure funds. It is the economic upliftment and income stream from the zones affected during the 25 to 30 year franchise term that makes it attractive to bankers. Projected low vehicle counts are only a small part of the investment consideration picture. Presented as a mere construction project in its current state, TPLEx doesn't excite development financiers.
Dreams will have to wait
Meantime, all those dreams for a 3-hour Manila-Baguio all expressway journey will have to wait. But would it have to wait for long? Having had to sacrifice the TPLEx to the political compromises of the era, the BCDA still has the strong backing of the JBIC to finance other projects. This is the 60km Tarlac to Palayan City Expressway, that leads to the Dingalan Bay Pacific Port project. The first 20km segment of this project is a dual carriageway that starts from the La Paz end of the SCTEx. From there, the route goes north east, bypassing Victoria, Tarlac and linking with the Highway that passes through Guimba, Nueva Ecija. This segment is a vital part of the Central Luzon Expressway that finally gives Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya a long deserved expressway.
But there's another way
From this location, travelers to Baguio exiting at the Guimba end of the 1st segment of this expressway can follow the existing National Highway to Cuyapo, then to Rosales, Pangasinan, then Asingan-Magilas Trail then back to Binalonan on the MacArthur Highway. From Guimba, and until the 2nd dual carriageway segment to the area in between Munoz and Talavera is built, trucks coming down from the Cagayan Valley Road can now divert from the Maharlika highway to the SCTEx via roads that link to Guimba. We hope P-Noy loves a longer expressway where he can stretch his Land Cruiser. That way, he should encourage the BCDA to get the Tarlac spur expressway started while the TPLEx project proponent surmounts its current difficulties. It would save a lot of his loyal voters among the Cagayan Valley truckers as they should soon have a safer alternative to the congested Maharlika and MacArthur highways.