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A bold plan for Metro Manila

I noticed that, despite the enormous problems caused by Metro Manila to the Philippine economy and society as a whole, candidates for top positions during the last elections failed to elucidate on the need to replan the whole metropolis. They just promised to continue the “Build, build, build” program of the Duterte administration without talking about the Mega Manila “Dream Plan” drawn up by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

Also, news accounts often only cited palliative traffic measures along Edsa and the daily losses totaling P3.5 billion suffered by the country due to traffic congestion in Metro Manila. Considering that the metropolitan economy accounts for 32 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, candidates should have researched more on literature that pertains to the effective solution of the intractable congestion problem of the metropolis.

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There should have been discussion on the Mega Manila “Dream Plan” that reorients the road network of what is now Mega Manila and which faulty road system is projected to cost the country P6 billion a day by 2030 if left unattended. Also, by 2030 the population of the megalopolis is projected to reach 30 million and the existing road capacities will have been exceeded by then. The reason for this is the current radial-circumferential road system that was conceived during the 1970s. The outmoded plan visualizes six circumferential roads and 10 radial roads originating from the City of Manila. This concept that dates back to monarchial times, such as that seen in London, has the following major disadvantages: There is a competition to occupy the central city; traffic is congested within or close to the central city; there are limited alternate routes for traffic since the transport infrastructure is essentially dendritic; and traffic equilibrium could become unstable as when a single major route like Edsa collapses at one point which then affects the entire system.

The “Dream Plan” actually proposes what Neda calls a ladder-form structure that connects the existing urban core with new centers along both crisscrossing north-south and east-west transportation axes. Actually, in the literature, this setup is referred to as the reticular-grid spatial strategy as conceived by the planner Pedro Ortiz. This system, which has been used in replanning cities like Madrid, Colombo, Bogotá, and Cairo, to name a few, has the following major advantages: Traffic equilibrium is achieved as it is distributed homogeneously; practically unlimited alternative routes are allowed; dispersed centralities lead to spatially distributed metropolitan activities; and multiple centralities multiply the alternative supply of land.

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And so, the “Dream Plan,” which aims to innovatively confront the problems of transport, land use, and environment, will effectively eliminate five “Nos”: no traffic congestion; no households living in hazardous areas; no barriers for seamless mobility; no excessive cost burden for low-income groups; and no air pollution. The plan also conceives of spatial expansion and countermagnet schemes north and south of Metro Manila, namely: planned urban expansion areas in Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna, and regional growth centers in Subic-Clark-Tarlac and Batangas-Lipa-Lucena.

Some components of this reticular-grid system have either been completed or started—such as the: NLEx-SLEx connector roads, North-South Commuter Railway, Mega Manila Subway, MRT-7, LRT-2 East extension line, and a stretched-out C-6 Road. Ideally, the plan should have more east-west connector roads that would even cut across the Sierra Madre mountains and open up Luzon’s eastern seaboard to development. One such road that should have been developed years ago is the Marikina-Infanta Highway, which could open up coastal roads, urban formations, and tourist sites in Aurora and Quezon across our fish-rich Philippine Rise. A break-of-bulk port can be set up in Infanta that could lessen the entry period of goods from the Americas to Metro Manila by around one week.

The next administration should lose no time in fully implementing and improving the Mega Manila “Dream Plan” if we want to become an upper-middle-income economy soon.

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Meliton B. Juanico is a retired professor of geography at UP Diliman and a licensed environmental planner.

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TAGS: Commentary, Mega Manila Dream Plan, meliton b. juanico, Metro Manila plan, NEDA
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