Infrastructure brings communities together
I don’t like giving praise; it’s not the role of a columnist. The role of a columnist is to bring to attention what the government propaganda machine conveniently overlooks, to bring to a leader’s attention what he should know but his team won’t tell him. I don’t like giving praise, but today I’ll make an exception.
Well, mostly so: And that’s about the Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway (MCX), finally a public-private partnership project completed under President Aquino. It’s the first, I believe, as I don’t count building schoolrooms as PPP. That’s just a contract where you get repaid over time.
By the way, the President complained of criticism, ridicule and abuse in his State of the Nation Address. Well, they’re part of what a democracy is all about. They’re necessary to ensure that leaders hear the negatives, too, in reaching decisions, and that the arrogance power can bring is kept in check.
Back to the praise. Some 25 years ago we moved from Forbes to Ayala Alabang. Friends said to me: “Peter, you’re crazy. It’s so far away.” And it was. There was a narrow, hopelessly overcrowded (even then) road to get there, and, in all, it took an hour or two of travel. But we wanted clean air for our young kids, so we went.
Today, there’s a skyway and it takes 25 minutes to get there outside of peak hours (during peak hours is another story). It’s more like dumb luck, but our prescience paid off. The moral of this story, for the President and whoever follows him, is: Infrastructure works. It impacts on so much more than just the project itself, and the effect is wide-ranging and deep. The Alabang/Filinvest area is now a commercial and residential center of rapid growth. Southward, towns are catching up at a rapid rate, with the Ayalas and the Villars leading the pack in attractively designed new villages that young people can afford (to buy or rent)—towns that wouldn’t be there if there weren’t roads to get to them.
But getting out of those villages is a nightmare, which has been imposed on us, too. The so-inadequately designed Commerce Avenue hasn’t been able to cope. It takes 45 minutes to just get to the skyway on a good day. But now, the short link, four lanes of it, from Daang Hari to SLEx brings that 45 down to five. That will accelerate the development of the south even more rapidly. It allows businesses to compete more successfully, and people to get to and from work with less stress and wastage. This shows that one ever so small piece of road can revolutionize the quality of life and spur the success of business. Sad (a little criticism here) that it wasn’t built four years ago. The slowness to get the ever so important endeavor of infrastructure-building moving is an indictment of the President’s leadership.
But that’s water under the bridge. Well, not exactly, because the bridges haven’t been built, but at least now construction is starting. The PPP Center, under Cosette Canilao, is finally on its way and other less industrious departments is finally moving. Out of 52 identified projects, 10 have been awarded. One is finished—the MCX, formerly called Daang Hari. Five are under construction and will be finished between 2015 and 2017. One of these is the Naia expressway that puts the airport terminals scant minutes from SLEx and to Makati or the southern towns. Pity it wasn’t finished for the Apec meetings, but who cares, we’re not Apec officials. The delay was due to right-of-way issues but at least they’re now settled and it’s underway.
The other four are the automatic fare collection system; the extension, operation and maintenance for the Light Rail Transit; and the two phases of the project for building public schoolrooms. When you think about it, that’s not a lot of new construction. The remaining projects of the 10, meanwhile, are in various stages: the construction of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Passenger Terminal Building, the Southwest Integrated Transport System, and the Cavite-Laguna Expressway, and the modernization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center.
What I most like about MCX is that the Ayalas got together with San Miguel Corp. and agreed to use the RFID/Epass on MCX and SLEx. How about NLEx and other expressways, too, Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya? Let’s use common sense and have one pass for all toll ways. MCX’s toll costs a readily affordable P17; you use more gas than that idling for 40 minutes. Well, not really, but put your wasted time in, too, and there’s a real saving. Actually, for a month it’s free, to entice you to try it out. Please do, so we can travel speedily on Commerce Avenue.
Now, what we need is the SLEx-NLEx connector road. I can’t wait for that. But finally, after far too long, it’s coming. A notice of project award is expected in October or November, and project completion by 2018. The connector road will be an alternative to Edsa and C-5 and will significantly cut travel time between NLEx and SLEx from an hour or two to 15-20 minutes. It was needed an awfully long time ago.
There’s also the ever so much needed connection from SLEx to C-5/C-6. The project is delayed, but with the development of Bonifacio, this has been a long-needed critical link. So let’s hope this gets started soon.
Mind you, it wouldn’t hurt at all if more emphasis and urgency were given to building train lines—and maintaining them. Trains are a great way to move large numbers of people, if you know how to run them. It’s something this government doesn’t know. So let’s hope the next leader will prioritize maintenance and expansion of the train system going south and north from Manila to ease the traffic on the roads. And look after and expand the train system in the metropolis.
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