It's early 2016. President Benigno Simeon [B.S.] C. Aquino, still a bachelor, relaxes by taking a drive. The Nation, post New Year, is transfixed on the coming Presidential elections. Pres. Aquino, despite some initial hiccups, is on his way to be remembered as the PPP president, having built more infrastructure than all his elected predecessors combined. This time, a grateful public allows him to drive his pre-owned Porsche 911 turbo without controversy and envy masquerading as righteousness.
He exits Malacanang Park into Paz Guanzon. He wants to go North, to his beloved Hacienda Luisita or even beyond. He has a choice. He can take Skyway Stage 3 at the Plaza Dilao interchange and exit at the A. Bonifacio end to connect to NLEx Balintawak. Or, he can take the NLEx Connector at its own Quirino interchange and drive side by side the unfinished elevated high speed railway, a project of his ally and friend DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas.
Wishing to avoid the truck traffic at A. Bonifacio, the President whips out his Easy Trip, ramps up to the NLEx connector which takes him to the NLEx Harbor Link, Segments 10 and 9 and onto the Mindanao Ave. NLEx clover leaf. The next time he'll bring out his Easy Trip is when he exits at Luisita. Having presided over the successful integration of SFEx-SCTEx and NLEx, eliminating the Dau and Mabalacat toll barriers, he only needs to stop at a toll gate once at entry and one more time at exit.
From Luisita he can proceed to Baguio. Which means he again has a choice. Take the rest of the SCTEx to La Paz, and onward to the 2-lane TPLEx which ends in Gerona, Tarlac and back to the grueling traffic of MacArthur Highway where wang wang, even when legal, is useless. Or, he can take the CLEx or Central Luzon Expwy which ends in Cabanatuan, though he will exit at Guimba to head for Rosales, Pangasinan and the Magilas Trail. For this journey, the security detail will need cash for his tolls as the long awaited integration of E-Pass and Easy Trip and the widespread use of payment transponders still need the Toll Collection Clearing House to start operation. That will be for the next president to inaugurate.
All points South
If President Aquino wishes to go South, he will bring out his E-Pass then take the Skyway Stage 3 Plaza Dilao entry. From there he will have many choices. He can go to Tagaytay via the new CaLa Expressway and exit to the Aguinaldo Highway. Or he can go to the beaches of Laiya by taking the SLEx all the way to STAR Tollway's Batangas City terminus. Or if he is in an adventurous mood, he can drive the length of the SLEx all the way to Lucena and on to CamSur.
PPPie in the Sky
Pie in the Sky? Not if the Government speeds up the feasibility studies of all those projects that PPP is proposing along with the Calamba Expressway, NAIA expressway, Clark-NAIA rail link, etc., etc. There are well financed conglomerates ready to take them on. All that's needed is integration of the inputs of all the other approving government agencies regarding toll agreements and relevance to master plans. This is where a lot of executive branch oversight is imperative.
Back to EDSA
We are still of the belief that to relieve clogged EDSA, Metro Manila needs all three ring expressways; NLEx connector, Skyway Stage 3 and Skyway Stage 4 alternatively known as C-6. Of course, demanding all of this simultaneously would strain the right-of-way purchasing budget of the DPWH. And depending on the route taken, the traffic clearing abilities of the MMDA.
Citra-San Miguel, proponents of Skyway Stage 3 have no problems accessing mega finance. The same is true for Metro Pacific Tollways, proponents of the NLEx connector. The pinnacle of design ambition for the projects envisioned is only as high as their pockets are deep. Then the only hurdles are the speed and imagination of the approving government agencies involved.
The Citra-SM Holdings-PNCC alignment or Skyway Stage 3 is a 2-level stacked elevated expressway passing over South Super Highway, Quirino Ave., Paco-Sta Mesa Road, Pandacan Bridge, G. Araneta, Sgt. Rivera and A. Bonifacio. The mid level has 3x3 carriageways and 8 exits. The top level is a 2x2 expressway that serves as the express route between Buendia and Balintawak.
Skyway Stage 3 lends itself to building, upward, by stages. Citra can first complete the 3x3 Skyway mid-level from Buendia to Balintawak. If DPWH is delayed in buying the right of way for the exits, Citra can always postpone the on/off ramps but it is critical that the Skyway Stage 3 mid level is finished from end to end. So, barring any new Financial Crisis, no repeat of the 10-year gap between a finished Skyway Stage 01 and Stage 02. As traffic builds up, then the top level 2x2 expressway can begin construction.
The construction of the piers of both the mid level and top level Skyway will have to be done from the onset. This will mean a traffic nightmare for the city's disjointed C-3 ring road, with a daily tussle between night time truck haulers and the MMDA, but then the benefits will be forthcoming. If Citra will push through with its PHP 99.00 end to end Class 01 toll, then it is up to the authorities to give Citra a reasonably long franchise term for them to recover their investment. Case in point; the beautiful Millau Viaduct over the Tarn Valley in France has an 80 year franchise term.
Railroad of dreams
The NLEx connector on the other hand needs the completion of Segments 9 and 10 or the so-called Harbor Link. Right of way purchasing is still on going. The NLEx connector will be using the PNR right of way. But the PNR has sold or pawned the air rights of the railway and stations to HGC [Home Guaranty Corp.] in order to fund its modernization. Moreover, DOTC Sec. Roxas envisions the North-Rail-South Rail link using the same PNR right of way as a high speed railway so additional easement has to be purchased.
This means the NLEx Connector is limited to a 2x2 carriageway, running parallel to the elevated railway. Because of space limitations, NLEx planners have limited the exits of the connector to only four, which keeps to its intent as an express through route. As for the air rights, leave it to Metro Pacific to think of a good win-win deal where HGC can gain a steady income stream from the proceeds of the tolls collected.
Two thirds/one third
Thus the DPWH finds itself in a bind as it may have to choose only one of the two. Not to be Solomonic about it, we propose a 2/3rd 1/3rd solution. If we want to maximize the number of exits to serve the 8 identified CBDs and accommodate the most number of city center commuters, then the project can be built as 2/3rd Skyway Stage 3 and 1/3rd NLEx connector with one major change.
C-3 to 5th Ave.
The Skyway Stage 3 Northern end should not be at A. Bonifacio as planned. A Bonifacio is heavily built up and it crosses EDSA with its LRT-1 bridge and is busy enough already. Moreover, it is the main truck route to the Harbor and since the Harbor Link won't be finished yet, pier foundation work on A Bonifacio may result in a daily traffic disaster. Instead Stage 3 should proceed west from Sgt. Rivera to C-3 to connect to the NLEx Harbor Link near the NLEx 5th Avenue junction.
One third/two thirds
If the DPWH doesn't find all the 8 exits of Skyway Stage 3 necessary and is content with NLEx's four exits, it can opt for 1/3 Skyway Stage 3 and 2/3rd NLEx connector. This means that the NLEx connector branches off from the Harbor Link to proceed over the PNR Railway, side by side with the high speed rail then link with an abbreviated Skyway Stage 3 either over the Paco Railway station, Plaza Dilao or in the vicinity of Pandacan Bridge.
No to high speeds
As for the high speed rail, it won't need as much easement as it is common practice on all high speed rail lines that trains travel at 80km/h and not 320km/h within city limits. Moreover, the curves of the PNR right of way are too sharp for high velocities.
Join the club
We repeat, having both cross town expressways is much preferred as Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok and other major cities have more than one elevated cross town expressway. The engineering problem is where the 2 proposals overlap between Qurino and Pandacan Bridge, but elegant solutions are in the realm of the possible.
We are not alone
There is a 3rd option and that is to let the inertia of competing or uncoordinated bureaucracies gum the wheels of any PPP. Six years on, getting stuck with just EDSA as the only north-south thruway is exactly just that: stuck. President Aquino knows this only too well when he tried to commute to Malacanang from Times street in the first few months of his term.
Status Quo, ante
If by 2016, we still do not have a new cross town through route, then take heart. We are in good company. Manhattan, Milan and London all don't have a complete and integrated cross town expressway to this day. There, like here, no one will envy anyone driving a Porsche, stuck in traffic.