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Untangling the gridlock: A look into the Philippines’ first subway project

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PHILSTAR

By Mark Louis F. Ferrolino
Special Features Writer

One big problem that hampers the Philippines in maximizing its economic potential is the worsening traffic congestion in the country’s capital region. The traffic jam, which was only experienced on the stretch of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) years ago, is now being felt in almost all major thoroughfares in Metro Manila.

According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the country is now losing P3.5 billion a day due to the traffic situation in Metro Manila, 45.8% higher than the estimated P2.4 billion in 2012. The updated figure was presented by JICA Philippines chief representative Susumu Ito during the 36th Joint Meeting of the Japan-Philippines Economic Cooperation Committee last February.

The amount can rise up to P5.4 billion a day by 2035 if transportation infrastructure in the region will not improve, Mr. Ito said.

Heavy traffic in Metro Manila not only affects the economy but also the Filipino commuters. Before Filipino workers could reach their workplaces, they have to spend time waiting beside the roads or at terminal stations to ride a public transport. Thereafter, they have to endure the hassle of getting stuck in the traffic, which often consumes their time that could have been used to do something productive.

Traffic congestion is paralyzing almost everything. Thus, the need for new and modern transport infrastructure, which will ease congestion and improve connectivity in and out of the capital region, is substantially needed.

One of the legacy flagship projects of the Duterte administration under its “Build, Build, Build” program is the construction of the Metro Manila Subway Project (MMSP), which is expected to ease traffic gridlock in the metropolis and address the linked problems in environment and land use.

MMSP is the first ever approved underground rapid transit in the country proposed by the Department of Transportation (DoTr), headed by Secretary Arthur P. Tugade.

The phase one of the 30-kilometer subway project will run from Mindanao Ave. in Quezon City to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Parañaque City. It will consist of 14 stations located in Mindanao Ave. – Quirino Highway, Tandang Sora, North Ave., Quezon Ave., East Ave, Anonas, Katipunan, Ortigas North, Ortigas South, Kalayaan Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Cayetano Blvd. and FTI, with a provision for a five-kilometer extension and two additional stations to connect with Manila Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1.

DoTr Director for Communications Goddess Hope Oliveros-Libiran told BusinessWorld in a Viber message that the project allows consistent travel from Quezon City to Taguig City in just 31 minutes, serving 370,000 passengers per day on its opening year.

The Philippines’ first subway, which is estimated to cost P355.6 billion, is dubbed by some as ambitious and the project of the century.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia believes that the Philippines is ready for this infrastructure project, starting from the funding up to the maintenance operations. He told BusinesWorld in a text message that it has “more beneficial impact on the economy” once completed.

MMSP will be funded by the Japanese government through a loan from its aid agency JICA. Last March 16, the Philippines and JICA signed the first tranche of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) loan, amounting to 104.53 billion yen or about $935 million. It carries an interest rate of 0.10% per annum for non-consulting services and 0.01% per annum for consulting services, to be repaid within 40 years (inclusive of a 12-year grace period).

The target groundbreaking for the project is set on the fourth quarter of the year, which is months earlier than planned, and is expected to be competed in 2025. Meanwhile, partial operations of three stations is set on the second quarter of 2022.

Ms. Libiran said that the manpower for the construction of the project will come from the Japanese contractor. She added that the cooperation of other government units, including the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and local government units (LGUs), will be needed for the management of traffic during the construction.