More roads, less cars


My commute to the Metro from the south has gotten more complicated with the construction of the Skyway Extension at the Susana Heights portion of SLEX. This project, once completed (hopefully) in December 2020, will allow vehicles to get on the Skyway even before the SLEX bottleneck that forms at the Alabang tollgate. This construction caught me off guard since I did not read any announcement, nor see any ceremonial groundbreaking, to formally inform the public that this was about to start. The project, plain and simple, just commenced without any fanfare. Come to think of it, all government projects should start off this way.

Carmageddon ensues in SLEX into Manila beginning after Susana Heights at much earlier in the morning. The foundation for the concrete pillars are now being laid before the Filinvest tollgate. This eats up an entire lane. To remedy this, cars may enter a zipper lane — a single-lane counterflow at the southbound side. This zipper lane is very much sought after, and cars crowd at its entry point, causing more traffic.

But wait there’s more — when you get into C5 northbound, another new construction has commenced. The initial phase of the Southeast Metro Manila Expressway has started at the Bayani Road portion of C5, to connect it to FTI, better known as Arca South of Ayala. This construction also eats up a lane in the northbound side of C5, effectively creating another bottleneck. Alas, perhaps the best bet for commuters is to take the newly opened exit of the Skyway Stage 3 at Plaza Dilao to get into the heart of Manila.

What else can we do but adjust to all these construction works and to patiently await their completion. The projects in the government pipeline, when completed, will make a huge positive impact on easing the burden of Metro Manila traffic. Off the bat, the more significant ones that should result in maximum impact, in my opinion, are the two subways and two NLEX-SLEX connector highways.

Congress, on its part, has refiled the bills to grant emergency powers to the President. In the Senate, we have former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Sen. Francis Tolentino, advocating that this bill be classified as urgent in the 18th Congress. To recall, this bill failed to pass in the 17th Congress under the Senate Committee on Public Services, chaired by Sen. Grace Poe. According to Poe, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) failed to specify its specific projects that will ease traffic congestion in the country.

As for the House, the Traffic Crisis Bill passed third reading in the 17th Congress as early as December 2018. In the 18th Congress, Rep. Juan Miguel Macapagal Arroyo filed House Bill 114 to revive this measure which we expect to breeze through the House committees for having been previously taken up on third reading.

What is the gist of this bill? The main benefit is the fast-tracking of the procurement process when it comes to road projects. This involves the whole gamut of right-of-way acquisition, entering into direct contracting and other alternative modes of procurement. Consequently, the main beneficiaries will also be the well-connected contractors who are expected to bag government infrastructure contracts amounting in the billions. This might be the evil that Sen. Poe has been guarding against.

For proper safeguards, Congress must require transparency when it comes to the bidding process of projects that will fall under the coverage of this bill. Some government agencies, including DoTr, have done live streaming of the opening of bids in government contracts.
These can be viewed on the social media accounts of the concerned government agency.

If this bill is passed, the net effect will be more construction all over the Metro, therefore requiring us to have even more patience. I am wondering why not a single legislator or high-ranking politician has mentioned the necessity of reducing vehicles on the road. Perhaps it is also time for us to jack up the prices of cars even further to make it much harder to purchase new cars, despite the slight increase made by the recent TRAIN law. Another regulation is the forcible prohibition of “old” vehicles on Metro Manila roads, though this is expected to be ruled as anti-poor.

Whatever has to be done, we can expect opposition from various groups, and too much analysis will lead to paralysis. For now, let’s learn to keep ourselves entertained and busy for the good four to five hours we spend on the road everyday.

or tweet: @darrendejesus.