After a decade, a common station that will link three railways in Metro Manila is finally pushing through. Ending years of controversy, the government broke ground for the project last Friday, with officials of all private-sector stakeholders as witnesses.
The project was planned in 2007. In September 2009, the state-run Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) accepted P200 million from SM Prime Holdings Inc. as goodwill money in exchange for locating the common station beside SM North City Edsa and naming rights to it.
That deal was finalized when Leandro Mendoza, since deceased, was transportation chief.
In April 2014, then Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya decided to include the common station in the bidding for the P65-billion extension of LRT Line 1. It was won by the consortium of businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Investments Corp. and Ayala Corp., whose Trinoma mall is in front of SM City North Edsa and is the last stop of the MRT3 line.
Abaya insisted then that a common station near Trinoma would save the government P1 billion. This prompted SM to sue the government for breach of the 2009 agreement on the common station being located near SM North Edsa.
In August 2014, the Supreme Court stopped the transportation department and the LRTA from transferring the location of the common station to Trinoma.
Given the importance of the project, Abaya pushed for a compromise and even suggested two small common stations — one each in SM North Edsa and in Trinoma. The decision on the project hung for the remainder of the Aquino administration.
When President Duterte appointed Arthur Tugade as transportation chief last year, one of his first official promises was to solve the impasse on the common station within his first 100 days in office. And this he did, brokering a compromise to locate the common station between the competing malls.
In September 2016, Tugade called all private stakeholders to a dialogue to come up with a solution to the common station problem. Last Jan. 18, a memorandum of agreement was signed among the private stakeholders, the Department of Transportation, and the LRTA outlining the design parameters for a new P2.8-billion common station at the new location.
The delay had jacked up the cost to P2.8 billion from the P2.6 billion estimated in 2009, although the government said the higher price was due to the fact that the station would be bigger or, as Tugade had explained, the new location has an area of 13,700 square meters with almost double the capacity of the original 2009 design.
A major lesson to be learned in this unfortunate episode is that dialogue is key to solving the problem. The penchant of complaining parties or losing companies to hale their competitors to court has never resulted in a win-win situation. It has only delayed many vital projects and caused heavy losses to them and the public that their projects were supposed to serve.
The DOTr should be commended for being able to bring together SM’s Tessie Sy and Hans Sy, Ayala Corp.’s Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, San Miguel Corp. big boss Ramon Ang, and Metro Pacific’s Pangilinan to the table and discuss what could be done to proceed with the common railway station. With the resolution, construction of MRT7 along Commonwealth Avenue to Bulacan by SMC’s unit Universal LRT Corp., which bagged the 25-year concession agreement for the railway line in 2008, can now also go full blast.
The common station that will connect MRT7, MRT3 and LRT1 will provide a common concourse where train commuters can conveniently transfer from one line to another.
What remain to be done now — and these could be the potential bottlenecks that could delay the project moving forward — would be the right-of-way delivery by the government and how SM and Ayala would go about naming the common station given the fact that both now have naming rights to the project.
If it is delivered on time, commuters in Metro Manila will finally enjoy the convenience of a common station by early 2020.
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