Conflicting signals

Even as the administration's focus is sidelined by the elections, many line departments are continuing with the task of trying to fulfill the President's dream of finishing his term as the PPP president. But despite the glowing reports on Foreign Investment indices and the hyper-optimism of local businessmen, the 2013 IMF Country Report states that our growth is still 'non-inclusive'; i.e. in layman's terms, the growth doesn't translate to the layman/masses which is lucidly explained by UP Prof. Benjamin Diokno. This is back stopped by the 2013 World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report where our country is at the bottom rung in terms of power, land, sea and air transportation. Could this be because of the snail's pace of infrastructure since 2010?

Delay as good news

There is good news especially in the light of huge delays in promising expressway and railway projects. By August this year, Northbound travelers can look forward to the opening of the 18km Tarlac to Gerona stage 1A of TPLEx. This is quite a delay from the promised June opening of the 46.8km Tarlac to Carmen phase 1 of TPLEx, which was started in the previous Administration, as the building of the SCTEx did set high expectations. The consolation for motorists though would be the Gerona segment will be the full 2x2 dual carriageway expressway instead of a single carriageway toll road as envisaged. Perhaps TRB can be ready by now so that it would not delay PIDC, the project proponent, from charging toll, unlike Skyway's unfortunate experience with NAIA Expressway Stage 1, which was toll free for almost a year.

Complete C-5?

Catching up on infrastructure in the busy metro, improvement of the drainage, footbridges and lane alignments on the Quezon City segment of C-5, the only workable north-south alternative to EDSA, are also in preparation when North-South traffic increases when Tandang Sora at Commonwealth is fully widened. The timing could only be prescient as EDSA is to receive an end-to-end full asphalt overlay, plus the impending construction of the roller coaster skyway from Malibay to Roxas Boulevard on EDSA.

LEDs and anti glare

Meantime, the march of LED's continue as TMC, the operator of the NLEx, has converted the lighting masts from Balintawak to Balagtas segment to all LED enhancing the NLEx's all weather safety. With road illumination now on par with China and Europe's latest expressways, areas that still do not have road illumination, like the Balagtas to Sta. Rita segment where there is also no high concrete median barrier, should at least have median anti-glare barriers. For that matter, anti-glare barriers were once promised for the MATES managed SLEx from Alabang to Sto. Tomas.

One more

The PPP has already awarded the NAIA Skyway Stage 2 to Entertainment City by the Bay to San Miguel's Optimal Infrastructure. This is the 2nd highway awarded by the PPP in the 3 years of Pnoy's PPP. Most of the bidding for the LRT and MRT related upgrades have been postponed several times over.

'Teka, teka, bakit?'

Up north, BCDA continues paying interest for the loan that built the SCTEx as the Palace hasn't OK'd the turnover of SCTEx to Metro Pacific Tollways who will take over debt servicing and integrate SCTEx operations and expenses as it runs NLEx. Metro Pacific Tollways has submitted a 4th revised offer even after the contract was approved in 2009.

Scoring an own goal?

Despite the Palace's approval of the two cross-Metro elevated expressways [NLEx connector and Skyway Stage 3], Citra Metro Manila Skyway hasn't been given the green light to start pile boring. Despite approvals from the TRB, of which the NEDA, DPWH, DOF and DOTC are members off, there are questions about performance benchmarks and the role of the now defunct PNCC since this project was approved during the Ramos era. But there is always room for amendments even for performance benchmarks as the project proceeds so why prevent it from proceeding? Does the terms of the contract need to be revised, ad nauseam, like the SCTEx-NLEx integration?  The awarding of the NAIA Skyway, makes the full functioning of Skyway Stage 3 all the more important not only for North South journeys but also for air transport coordination as former DOTC Sec. Roxas's DMIA-NAIA rail link is still in the proposal stage This long wait will delay the current Administration's own wishes to have at least one of these EDSA alternate routes up and running by the end of its term. Just like the SCTEx-NLEx integration, it is in the President's hands to sign this STOA [Supplementary Toll Operations Agreement] immediately.

Confusing ETC RFID tags with RFID cards

Long overdue toll hike adjustments for the SCTEx, STAR and SLEx imposes an unfair financial burden on private investors which delays and discourages further investment into existing infrastructure. It also limits the quality of interested foreign investor/partners here, as some have proven to be inadequate in actual tollway operations and management compared to SOMCO and Metro Tollways. For instance, legislator Jack Enrile was spearheading efforts to integrate ETC [electronic toll collection] on all tollways. ETC's are what Easy Trip, EC Tag and E-PASS is to you and me. Then Congressman Jack proposed that E-PASS and Easy Trip become interoperable. But since incentives for operation of tollways are muddled or do not seem to be as investor friendly as desired, STAR Tollway and CAVITEX are only considering cheaper RFID Toll Cards, which is far slower and obsolete compared to the E-PASS and Easy Trip RFID Tags.

'Noli me tangere'

The signs point to the fact that the three year stasis that resulted from the incoming Administration's intense vetting, 'cleansing' and renegotiating of projects approved by previous Administrations isn't over yet. Why re-invent the wheel? The whole vetting process has to end some time so we can get on with catching up with our huge infrastructure backlog. Ramos, ERAP and GMA era projects and contracts are continuously under the microscope but meantime, the zeal of infrastructure investment friendly funds may run out as other countries have better investment incentives. Alternatives to 'suspect' projects, due for further 'tightening', from past administrations are not thick on the ground either. Meantime, the Charter [Cory era, thus pre-Ramos-ERAP-GMA] change on foreign ownership limits remains 'Noli me tangere'. 

New meaning of PPP

Let's hope this administration doesn't leave PPP with the legacy of a new meaning of PPP: Postponing Philippine Progress.

Just do it!

The simplest ideas are sometimes the most effective. Recently, the MMDA moved the Fort bound U-turn under the EDSA Buendia flyover one slot forward, resulting in smoother traffic transitions on the EDSA-Guadalupe bound lane. For the rest of the infrastructure projects, all this government has to do is to 'Just do it!'