YOU would think that with the private sector now actively helping the government in building better road infrastructure through the Public-Private Partnership Program, both commuters and motorists would now be enjoying fast and safe travel to their destinations.
Banish the thought.
The stark reality is that even if we now have more expressways running the length and breadth of the main island of Luzon, we have yet to achieve the goal of seamless travel since there are many roadblocks along the way.
What is taking place now is that the toll-road operators—Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC) for North Luzon Expressway (Nlex) and Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx); San Miguel Corp.-Private Infra Development Corp. for Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway; San Miguel Corp.-Citra Metro Manila Tollway Corp. (SMC-Citra) for the South Luzon Expressway (Slex); Cavite Infrastructure Corp. (CIC) for the Cavite Expressway (Cavitex); and Star Infrastructure Development Corp. (SIDC) for the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR)—have been unable to do much to improve driving conditions and integrate the expressways, because government agencies overseeing public transport seem to be erecting one barrier after another in improving the road infrastructure.
Take the case of SCTEx, the country’s longest toll road with a span of 94 kilometers. Built at a cost of P28 billion through a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, it opened in April 2008. Since then,
SCTEx has shown marks of wear and tear and requires heavy repair work, the inevitable result of failure by MNTC and its partner, Egis Projects S.A. of France, to formally take over the operation and maintenance (O&M) work for almost six years after MNTC was already supposed to do so.
MNTC’s O&M contract for SCTEx was approved under the Arroyo administration in 2009, but the Aquino administration deemed it fit to renegotiate the deal. After the renegotiations, President Aquino directed the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) in November 2014 to stage a price challenge or competitive bidding for SCTEx’s O&M contract. MNTC won the price challenge in the absence of any rival bidder.
Up till now, however, the government has yet to award the O&M contract to MNTC, seven months after the toll operator won the price challenge and already deposited the P3.5-billion cash in an escrow account. The BCDA issued a Notice of Award to MNTC on February 4, but the official O&M contract is not yet in this toll operator’s hands because the Supplemental Toll Operation Agreement, though already approved by Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), is still pending at the Office of the President.
Work on the C-5 Link Expressway, a P9-billion, 7.6-km road project connecting C-5 Road in Taguig City to the R-1 (Coastal) Expressway, is also on hold as the TRB has yet to issue a Notice to Proceed, pending a certification from an independent consulting firm on the availability of the right-of-way (ROW) for the alignment already approved by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the approval of a final engineering design now undergoing final review, and construction schedules and costs.
This Cavitex extension project has been favorably endorsed by Parañaque City residents, and has already been issued the required Environmental Compliance Certificate by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Once completed, the project is expected to relieve traffic congestion in Parañaque City and assure safe, fast and convenient expressway travel for other users in the Cavite, Las Piñas, Taguig and Makati areas. But, despite the readiness of CIC to commence construction as soon as possible, a big obstacle is the lack of the TRB’s Notice to Proceed. The snags do not end there. The P25.6-billion Metro Manila Skyway 3 of the SMC-Citra consortium and the Nlex-Slex Connector Road project of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. are also delayed because of the need to redesign both alignments, as the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Board has approved the North-South Railway Project, which will use the same railroad tracks of`the Philippine National Railways.
SMC-Citra has begun construction of Skyway 3, but has moved back its target completion to 2017. MPIC’s Nlex-Connector Road, on the other hand, has yet to start as government agencies tarried in making a decision to hold a Swiss Challenge after mulling over a joint venture with the Philippine National Construction Corp. that holds the franchise to both Nlex and Slex. It is only after the Neda Board has confirmed the Swiss Challenge that interested parties can submit counteroffers. The Neda Board will still schedule a meeting to approve the Swiss Challenge process.
The P15.8-billion Ninoy Aquino International Airport Expressway, a four-lane, 7-km elevated expressway and 2.2-km at-grade feeder road that will provide access to Naia Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 4 and connect to the Skyway system and Cavitex, is already a year behind schedule due to the failure of the DPWH to secure the ROW for the project. It was originally scheduled to be completed in November to facilitate traffic during the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference summit in Manila.
ROW issues are, likewise, behind the delay in the start of the P35.42-billion Cavite-Laguna Expressway. ROW delivery could be completed in two years, or in 2017. Calax is a 44.6-km, four-lane expressway connecting Cavitex in Kawit, Cavite, and the Slex-Mamplasan Interchange in Biñan, Laguna. MPIC formally signed the Calax concession deal on July 10 and made a down payment of P5.4 billion that same day—representing 20 percent of the P27.3-billion premium that it had offered to win the second public bidding.
ROW problems also hound MNTC’s Nlex Harbor Link project and the extension of Nlex from Mindanao Avenue to Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. If the government is able to deliver full ROW acquisition within the year, the construction of Segments 9 and 10 of the Nlex Harbor Link is expected to be completed by MNTC in December 2016.
Finally, the failure of the TRB to approve petitions for toll increases by the operators and concessionaires of Nlex, Slex, Cavitex and STAR has stymied the implementation of road improvements. The TRB even pressed SIDC to expand STAR’s Phase 2 expansion without waiting for the toll-fee adjustment, which the latter did, but the firm is now worried whether it can still recover its additional investment in STAR, amounting to P2.3 billion. The 22-km STAR Tollway 1 starts from Santo Tomas, Batangas, to Lipa City, while its 20-km expansion project extended the expressway from Lipa City to Batangas City.
Amid all this, wonder no more that the traffic situation in and out of Metro Manila is in shambles.