On a normal day, commuting 12 kilometers from Quezon City to Makati City could take two hours. If you are in Makati City and must cross EDSA to get to the Ortigas Center, expect to be stuck in gridlock for at least one hour. This is life in Metro Manila, a city with 39,000 people per square kilometer, 2.5 million cars, and a network of 5,000 kilometers of roads, half its true requirement.
In its 2014 report, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) confirmed that the country has been sustaining economic losses of P2.4 billion a day on the back of Metro Manila’s traffic. The report was updated in 2017 and daily losses have escalated to P3.5 billion. The damage is so great that it is equivalent to 8% of gross domestic product. With inaction, JICA says, losses can skyrocket to P5.4 billion in a few years. This will render Metro Manila unlivable.
How did we get here? All these are a result of government’s failure to invest in appropriate infrastructure to support Metro Manila’s ever growing population. Records show that from 1980 to 2009, infrastructure spending in the Philippines amounted to only 2.4% of GDP as compared to 5%+ in other ASEAN countries.
Average infrastructure spending during Marcos’s 20-year term was only 3.2% of GDP. Cory, FVR, and Erap each spent 2.2% of GDP. The 10 years under GMA was a virtual infrastructure dry-spell as Arroyo spent only 1.9% of GDP on roads, bridges, and ports. This is largely the reason why we have an acute infrastructure backlog today.
Noynoy Aquino spent 2.9% of GDP on infrastructure. However, if we factor-in the projects built (or being built) at no cost to government through Private Public Partnerships (PPP), the ratio should be more than 5%. Among the projects done under a PPP scheme are the Daang Hari Expressway, NAIA Elevated Expressway (NAIAX), LRT-1 Extension, MRT-2 Extension, MRT-7, the NLEx-SLEx connector road via Skyway, and the South & SouthWest Integrated Transport Systems (ITS).
The Daang Hari Expressway and NAIAX are already operational. The later, however, will be extended all the way to Bonifacio Global City (BGC). Meanwhile, the extensions of LRT-1 to Bacoor and LRT-2 to Antipolo are scheduled for completion on October 2021 and April 2019, respectively. MRT-7, connecting North EDSA to San Miguel, Bulacan, is presently under construction and is scheduled for completion in the second quarter of 2020.
The NLEx-SLEx connector road via the Skyway will be a game changer for Metro Manila. Cars, trucks and buses travelling from Cavite to Bulacan, or vice versa, need not pass through EDSA or C5 as the connector road provides the direct link. It is scheduled for completion this year.
The Integrated Transport Systems (ITS) are universal bus depots meant to replace the hundreds of bus terminals that dot southern EDSA. They are a modern transport hubs where arrivals and departures of buses are pre-programmed and ticketing is centralized. Two ITS depots are presently being built, both to service southbound buses. ITS-Southwest is located near the Coastal Road in Parañaque City and will be finished this year. ITS-South is located at the FTI Complex and is scheduled for completion on March, 2019. There is no ITS to service northbound buses yet.
BUILD, BUILD, BUILD
The Duterte administration intends to accelerate infrastructure spending to as much as 7.4% of GDP or P8.13 trillion over five years. There are 75 keystone projects in the Build, Build, Build agenda and the majority of them are geared to relieve Metro Manila’s traffic. After all, the National Capital Region accounts for 37% of the nation’s GDP.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will spend more than P450 billion on roadworks this year, which is more than the amount spent from 2010 to 2013, combined. Among the centerpiece projects is the second NLEx-SLEx connector road, a project awarded to Metro Pacific. This is an eight-kilometer elevated highway with 2 x 2 lanes that extends NLEx further south from C3 Road in Caloocan to PUP in Sta. Mesa and onward to connect to the Skyway. It will feature interchanges in Caloocan and España Ave. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2021.
The Harbour Link Road is a 14-kilometer highway that connects the Port Area to NLEx. Container vans can now bypass EDSA when heading north. A portion of the Harbor Link Road is scheduled to be operational next month, barring delays.
Also in the DPWH pipeline is the construction of 12 bridges to cross the Pasig River. They are: the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge; the North-South Harbor Bridge; the Carlos Palanca-San Marcelino Bridge; the Pandacan-Sta. Ana Bridge; the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge; the F. Blumentritt-Antipolo Bridge; the Kabayani-Katipunan Bridge; the Reposo-Guatemala Bridge; the JP Rizal-Yale Bridge; the G. Gabriel-Mercury Ave. Bridge; and the East-West Bank Bridges 1 & 2. All these will be completed in five years.
The Department of Transportation (DoTr) has numerous projects in its pipeline, the most ambitious of which is the Metro Manila Subway System. Funded by the Japanese government, the country’s first subway will run from Mindanao Ave. to NAIA, passing through Ortigas and BGC among eight other stops. Civil works are ongoing while tunneling work will start on the 4th quarter of 2019. The subway will have a capacity of 370,000 passengers a day. The subterranean line will be completed in 2025 but the DoTr will attempt to make three stations operational before the end of President Duterte’s term.
Other railways in the works are the Manila-Clark line, via Malolos, and the Manila-Bicol line, via Calamba. Both lines are scheduled for completion by the 4th quarter of 2021.
Linking LRT-1, MRT-3, and MRT-7 is a grand central station in North EDSA which had its ceremonial groundbreaking last September. The project was scheduled to be completed in 2020. However, new disagreements among the taipans who have stakes in the project — the Sys, Ayalas, and Angs — have arisen. This has caused the project to be delayed anew. There is no telling when the project will finally be finished. This is unfortunate because it has been on the drawing board since 2009.
To decongest the seaport of Manila, the DoTr, in collaboration with ICTSI, is building the Cavite Gateway Terminal in Tanza, Cavite. The terminal serves as a holding area for container vans whose final destination is in the south. Transfers of containers from the port area to the Tanza terminal will be done by barge plying Manila Bay. This will relieve our roads from 140,000 truck trips a year.
The DoTr will also be constructing two Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines, the first is a 48.6-kilometer line running throughout EDSA and the second will be a loop to connect the Ortigas Center, Makati City, BGC, and NAIA. Both BRTs will commence construction in 2019, to be completed in 2021.
The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) has a game-changing project of its own. Since it owns the right of way of roads in BGC, it is building a BRT loop that starts from McKinley Road on to Boni High Street, forward to Uptown Mall, Kalayaan Ave. and back to McKinley through the Mind Museum. There will be 13 stops altogether and this will make every point in BGC a mere five-minute walk from any BRT station.
The BRT will extend to McKinley Hills and McKinley West and onto the LRT-1 station in Baclaran, passing through all three NAIA terminals. The BRT Line from Lawton Road in BGC to Baclaran will run underground. Target date of completion is 2021.
With the realization of all these projects, we can expect a tremendous reduction in Metro Manila traffic. There is light at the end of the gridlocked tunnel after all.
The good news is that all the projects mentioned are moving forward. The bad news is that they can easily be derailed by interfering politicians and/or legal injections by losing bidders. Civil society should remain vigilant to make sure personal or corporate interests don’t get in the way of our infrastructure building spree.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.