Metro Manila’s traffic mess is one problem that is proving too difficult to untangle. A confluence of events since many administrations ago has led to this nightmare in the capital.
Last week, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) estimated that the worsening traffic congestion in Metro Manila now costs at least P3.5 billion in lost opportunities a day — a jump from the estimated P2.4 billion a day in 2012.
The future does not seem to present much promise either.
According to the Jica study, Metro Manila’s population in 2015 was nearly 13 million while Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite combined had almost 11 million. That puts Mega Manila’s population in 2015 at 24 million.
By 2025, Jica projected that Metro Manila’s population would be 16 million, and that of Mega Manila 38 million — becoming one of the largest cities in the world and, as a consequence, more congested.
The Metro Rail Transit 3 or MRT 3 that runs the stretch of Edsa could have helped much, but it has deteriorated so much that technical problems and stoppage have become a daily occurrence.
Yet Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade remains ever hopeful, saying he still felt there were solutions to address the MRT 3 problem. He was most likely referring to again tapping Sumitomo Corp. as MRT 3’s maintenance operator and finally privatizing its operations.
The Department of Transportation has been in talks with Metro Pacific Investments Corp., which had offered to take over the operations and rehabilitation of MRT 3.
Another potential solution has been pending for some time in Congress. In August 2016, Sen. Grace Poe filed Senate Bill No. 1284 seeking to give President Duterte emergency powers to address the traffic problem.
The measure, however, is in limbo, legislators having focused their priorities on the proposed shift to federalism and on televised investigations purportedly in aid of legislation.
Add to all these issues the lack of discipline on the road and you have the perfect storm insofar as choking Metro Manila’s streets is concerned.
Jica, which has been helping the Philippine government find solutions to the traffic problem, pointed out that the huge cost of congestion highlighted the need for new and modern infrastructure to ease the traffic situation.
One such undertaking is the initial phase of the Metro Manila Subway Project. Groundbreaking for the subway project has been moved to the third quarter of this year instead of early 2019. The 25.3-kilometer underground rail will connect Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City and Food Terminal Inc. in Taguig City, with a spur line to Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City. It will cost P356.9 billion.
It is just part of the Duterte administration’s ambitious “Build, build, build” infrastructure program to help ease the congestion, especially in the metropolis.
Under the program, the government will roll out 75 infrastructure projects, with about half targeted to be finished within Mr. Duterte’s term. A total of more than P8 trillion will be spent on modern infrastructure such as skyways, railways and bridges until 2022.
This is not to say that traffic congestion will disappear once the new roads and bridges and railways have been built. Sadly, traffic congestion in the future will still be very costly. The traffic cost is P3.5 billion a day in Metro Manila today. If nothing is done, Jica estimated, it would worsen to P5.4 billion a day by 2035.
With “Build, build, build,” it could be reduced to P3 billion a day. With additional projects other than those identified in the infrastructure program, it would be reduced to P2.4 billion a day, which is still a very high price to pay for traffic congestion.
We can only dream of the day when we citizens would have smart choices in going from one place to another. A subway/elevated train system, efficient public buses and taxis, all environment-friendly by running on electricity or natural gas. Or even dedicated bicycle lanes for the health buffs. These will all take a long time to implement. But now is the best time to start.
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