Kune would have been pleased. It was only ten years ago when First Holdings was, pensively, getting ready to open the nation's newest world class tollway, some ten long years after Pres. FVR launched Citra's Metro Manila Skyway Stage 1. There were grumbles in some quarters about the septuple increase in tolls and there were rumors of ugly disruptions to be staged at the huge Balintawak toll barrier. But MNTC COO Tony Mabasa, CEO Ping de Jesus and CCO Marlene Ochoa were ready for any scenario short of nuclear armageddon. Meantime, Kune dolls, the NLEx mascot, was ready for distribution for the first many motorist clients.
It started with Tipo
Thankfully, the new world class NLEx inauguration 10 years ago went by without a blip. It was a coming out party for MNTC, after having started with baby steps, it climbed a steep learning curve when it financed and built today's Subic Freeport Expressway, then called the Tipo Subic Expressway in the early 90's. It's timing was perfect; just before the Centennial boom, Subic's own coming out party and despite the lingering Asian Crisis which would eventually delay any financing for BOT infra projects for quite a long time.
But after three presidencies of business mood swings, we entered the Pnoy era of unbridled and unimpeachable optimism. Just look at all those new tollways being built and opened these past few years. Surely, perpetrators and beneficiaries of this optimism would want it to last forever.
Any administration, proud of its achievements, would naturally want the continuance, if not the perpetuation of its lofty goals, long after it has stepped down. Hence an understandably for the incumbent eral Party's "Daang Matuwid" dogma, especially when one considers the recent trend in this country where outgoing administrations, like GMA's and ERAP's, are pilloried, hung and quartered by the incoming one.
Good bye to all that
Liberal intellectuals and lovers of civil liberties, fair play and level playing field surely won't miss the quarrelsome, vengeful, hectoring, sanctimonious, arbitrary, bullying, public shaming, hubristic, messenger-murdering, shoot-first-ask-questions-later and hypocritical double standard small minded characters of this current one. While its dogged Inquisition-like pursuit of graft and corruption is praiseworthy, it becomes as tyrannically oppressive as the French Revolution when it runs roughshod over basic human rights and the presumption of innocence. As for the much insisted positive news that media allegedly neglects, we do have some and we don't mean to parrot or hype what the Palace spinmeisters pronounce as only pleasing to the eyes and ears of the powers that be.
"Daang, daang" traffic
Daang Matuwid has, whether by design or accident, produced genuine and recognizable real economic growth; the kind that anyone can reach even if it doesn't touch everyone. For the motoring industry, it spells record sales growth year on year. For the motoring public, record road construction somewhat catching up with our 40 year infrastructure backlog. But there's bad news: Daang Matuwid has also produced "Daang Masikip"; record traffic volumes in most cities. Traffic has become more frequent in occurrence and longer in duration. And it can only get worse. With Daang Masikip a daily dread, Daang Matuwid promises to bequeath to us its solution; the PPP.
Soon, very soon and sooner than later
With less than 2 years to go, we can assuredly look forward to inauguration of Daang Hari Expressway, now renamed MCX or Muntinglupa-Cavite Expressway. In full swing is the NAIA Skyway. The current administration is optimistic on getting the bidding started on the colossal Laguna Lake Dike/Expressway and the stalled CALAx. Besides these four PPP road projects, Daang Matuwid has pushed for the Skyway Stage 3 and the NLEx Metro link connector, which are part of existing tollway franchises.
Which relieves what
MCX is supposed to relieve the SLEx and Skyway exits to the feeder roads connecting thousands of car dependent bedroom communities of southern Metro and northern Cavite. NAIA Skyway improves access to PAGCOR City, Macapagal Ave., CAVITEx-Skyway/SLEx, Baclaran and relieves the inter airport traffic between NAIA 1,2, 3 and 4. CALAx and LLDEx enhances transport and cargo links between the Metro and CALABARZON, alleviating the National Highway system and Skyway/SLEx from its overburdened existence. Skyway Stage 3 and NLEx Metro link expwy are the express routes for traffic transiting through the Metro, a role that has overwhelmed EDSA 30 years ago and a role that a decapitated C-5 cannot assume in its current shape and form.
Unfortunately, a snapshot of the long daily traffic jams on Skyway-Nichols, Bicutan, Sucat and Alabang show that the main commuter access roads in the Mandaluyong-Makati-Pasig-Pasay-Alabang urban quadrangle, the nation's most congested urban conurbation, are near saturation point. And since the aforementioned six road projects, when operational, will only relieve transiting traffic, expect EDSA and C-5's severe and prolonged standstill traffic to transfer to Skyway Stage 1 and 2, elevated and at-grade, as early as late 2016.
Things are a bit easier up North because Quezon and Caloocan cities are a bit more diffused and not as congested as Southern Metro Manila. Still, expect daily traffic congestion frequency and duration at NLEx Valenzuela-Meycauayan-Bocaue to worsen like the Skyway Bicutan-Sucat-Alabang and CAVITEx-MIA Rd.-Macapagal Ave. zones today as traffic forecasts point out. Fortunately for Northerners, the NLEx franchise encompasses 2 critical relief spur expressways; 1. Segment 8 which includes the newish Mindanao Ave. toll plaza and should connect with Luzon Ave.-Congressional and Katipunan if the DPWH accelerates is RROW clearing. Segment 9, delayed by the last few meters of RROW clearing, connects NLEx to MacArthur Highway in Valenzuela, opening up direct access to CAMANAVA. Segment 10 or the Harbor Link, doubles as the northern leg of the Metro link expressway a.k.a. NLEx connector.
Expedite with renewed DAP and savings
With 2 years left, the current administration can still stem Skyway traffic standstill by fast tracking approval of the following: 1. CAVITEx missing link to C-5 via the subdivision beside the NAIA runway, 2. C-6 or Metro Manila Expressway Skyway Stage 4 which begins at Skyway Bicutan and terminates in Antipolo, eastern Metro Manila, 3. Merville/Moonwalk interchange and feeder road, and 4. C-5 to C-6 link. All these four projects are part of existing tollway franchises, so there will be no PPP bidding nor premium franchise advance payment. At the same time, it should expedite the RROW acquisition for NLEx Segment 8.2 from Mindanao Ave. toll plaza to Katipunan Ave., NLEx Segment 9 to Maysan-MacArthur and NLEx 10 harbor link. As for the NLEx Metro link or so-called connector, the administration should expedite the supplemental toll agreement for the PNCC-Metro tollways franchise or the unsolicited proposal Swiss Challenge if the DoJ cannot be persuaded to back down on disregarding the PNCC's franchise. With a supine legislature at its beck and call, financing all these RROW expropriations with white-washed DAP and redefined savings, regardless of Supreme Court definitions, is all in the realm of the doable.
Palace override for legal/bureaucratic hurdles
Proceeding with the CAVITEx-C-5 link completes the southern leg of C-5, allowing traffic heading for Roxas Blvd. to avoid EDSA entirely. This may even negate the need for DPWH to build the Malibay-Roxas Blvd. roller coaster elevated viaduct on EDSA. The Merville/Moonwalk interchange and feeder road will free up both perpetually clogged East and West Service Roads astride the Skyway and will speed up access to the CAVITEx-C-5 link. Building the C-5-C-6 link and C-6 Metro expressway Skyway Stage 4 will provide direct access to Eastern Metro Manila, thus avoiding EDSA and E. Rodriguez in Pasig. All these 4 projects will enhance the interoperability of the proposed intermodal south transport terminal in the former FTI, which is projected to handle 5,000 provincial bus trips a day. As for the NLEx end, finishing Segments 8, 9 and 10 will complete the northern leg of C-5, making it a genuinely functional alternative ring road to EDSA
Integrating CALAx with LLDEx
Since CALAx will undergo a rebid and LLDEx is being further refined before bidding, DPWH should take steps to enhance integration of these two toll roads into existing and proposed toll expressways. The 20B premium for CALAx's new floor price, thanks to San Miguel's appeal to the Palace, should at least include a Phase 3; a connector expressway from Mamplasan SLEx to the LLDEx lakeshore. LLDEx should also have a spur expressway to connect to SLEx Calamba.
Heed the "voces" of the bosses
Lastly, while it is well and good to have PPP amass huge franchise premiums up front, the administration should all the more be fair to all toll road operators and act on their toll hike petitions, as stipulated in their contracts. With San Miguel soon taking on the mantle as the patron saint of toll roads, we shouldn't need "Boss" Danding Cojaungco to appeal to the Palace again for action on this. Unless Pnoy's legacy transform Daang Matuwid to Daang Masikip.