New road, more traffic, more toll
Monitoring northbound SCTEx to TPLEx traffic the past holiday seasons should put to rest doubts as to the commercial viability of North Luzon tollways. Judging by the volumes, the break even point of 25,000 vehicles per day should soon be a daily reality.
But with this success, comes the major traffic jams at the Tarlac SCTEx temporary toll plaza at San Miguel. Palliative measures like prepayment of Tarlac exit toll at Mabalacat entry have been a great help but this heavy traffic situation could have been avoided if the Palace acted three years ago.
The forecast was right
As early as 2009, BCDA, owners of the SCTEx and MNTC, Manila North Tollways, NLEx long term Operations and Maintenance contractors and interim O&M contractors of the SCTEx already anticipated the build up in traffic once TPLEx eventually opens, even in initial single carriageway form.
Plans were laid for a big toll plaza in Tarlac. And if long term integration with NLEx operations were approved, the Dau and the so called Clark Logistics or Mabalacat toll plazas were to be eliminated, reducing toll payment queues twice over. Upgrading of several interchanges in Tarlac and north Pampanga were in the cards to adjust to new exits and entries.
Disaster prevented, if only....
Even the reconfiguration of the Pasig-Potrero viaduct into several more bridge spans to replace the earth fill approaches were planned. If this was done 3 years ago, we wouldn't have had the damage to this scenic viaduct caused by typhoon Maring - which today is spanned by temporary Bailey bridge.
No JICA funding
When TPLEx construction started, PIDC, the project proponent, was hamstrung by the absence of financial backing by JICA [Japan International Cooperation Agency], which earlier gave generous terms to build the SCTEx.
San Miguel, the white knight
PIDC broke ground during the last year of the GMA administration but the pace of work for the TPLEx only accelerated when San Miguel Infra came in as a substantial financially muscular partner. SMC's later partnerships with Citra in the Skyway and SLEx, plus its investment in the STAR tollway gave them the nous and gravitas in tollway operations and maintenance. This helped SMC win the PPP bid for the NAIA expressway extension.
Cutting by three
With SMC on board, the total 89.0 kms of TPLEx all the way to Rosario, La Union, may finish in 2015, 3 years ahead of schedule. Moreover, TPLEx will, from the very start, operate as a limited access dual carriageway instead of the initial piecemeal plan of operating as a single carriageway until revenues can pay for further construction. As a dual carriageway, north bound motorists will face reduced chances of mimicking sometimes fatal headline grabbing accidents that bedevil the two lane Lipa to Batangas segment of STAR.
Flattery gets you somewhere
No less than Pres. Aquino was impressed with the speed at which TPLEx progressed ever since SMC's entry into the project. So much so that at Pnoy's inauguration speech of the TPLEx Paniqui interchange last December, Pres. Aquino called SMC's Ramon S. Ang, 'idol'.
Favor it forward
Pnoy could do better than return the favor to his 'idol' by alleviating the traffic at the Tarlac toll plaza connecting SCTEx to TPLEx. All the Palace has to do is approve the O and M contract between BCDA and MNTC, which has been pending since 2009 .
Postpone, cancel, delay...
The GMA administration deferred approval of this contract with MNTC in deference to the incoming Pnoy administration which promptly cancelled it. Within a year, there were no other qualified takers for the interim operation and maintenance of the SCTEx. Understandably so as O&M contracts entail huge investments that should have at least a ten or, ideally, a 20 year term. Its not like a security agency contract that one can cancel on a whim as there are gazillions of other agencies out there. Not so with outfits experienced in tollway O&M.
Not exactly thick on the ground
So its back to the original BCDA MNTC contract, by which time MNTC was already absorbed by Metro Pacific Tollways. After 3 years and 3 further sweeteners, the DoF finally endorsed the contract to the Palace and that is where it sits, gathering dust as traffic on the TPLEx piles up.
The enemy of my friend is...
It is no secret that this current administration is not into calling perceived rivals of its idols as 'idol'. Stands to reason that being a rival to this administration's idol, is as good as being on this administration's s**t list. Which is way beyond being buggered out.
Witness the following: instead of allowing a price hike for water rates as per contract, the MWSS imposed a price cut on privately owned water utilities that invested heavily in improved water supply. The shutdown of the Malampaya gas field forces a power rate hike? Have the Supreme Court honor a TRO, investigate the members of the Energy Regulatory Board thus impeding it from being obligated to approve the power rate increase as per contract and instigate another one of those endless reviews of the EPIRA law. Or if one happens to be majority owner of a BOT mass transit railway, prevent any fare increases and make the rail and rolling stock rehab project go through the wringer. It looks like good populist ad copy for trying to please the masses as the alleged 'bossings' of this administration. But its tough being a business conglomerate that owns and funds power, water and rail infrastructure that competes with this administration's idol.
What are we in power for?
Prejudices aside, the delay in approving the long term SCTEx O&M contract that integrates it to NLEx is prolonging the agony of those heading for the idol's TPLEx. The private sector, both idol or otherwise, has put in a lot of time and money to realize a fully functioning TPLEx three years ahead of schedule. It would be a tragic irony if this administration fails to improve traffic flow into TPLEx by having delayed the SCTEx O&M integration with NLEx three years and counting. Let's hope that between us 'bossings' and the idol, there is, at least, a semblance of a 'level playing field', even just for appearances sake. Yes, indeed, what are we in power for?