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Patton Kim, a Korean businessman, is getting tired of traffic congestion in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas. Going to Tagaytay City, he says, takes half a day.
Kim, a travel operator, knows too well that the traffic mess in Metro Manila is bad for the economy. If the situation does not improve, he has no choice but to promote other Asian tourist destinations, where traffic is a breeze.
This could easily translate to at least 50,000 foreign tourists bypassing the Philippines, because that was the volume of Korean travelers that Kim’s travel agency, Hana Tours, brought to the country in 2005. There were actually half a million Koreans who came here last year.
Metro Manila, a conglomerate of 14 cities and three municipalities, is getting denser by the day. Without new infrastructure projects being built, the metropolis may become the bottleneck of vehicular traffic in Luzon and the gridlock of the whole economy in the near future.
This is because Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, Quezon, Batangas and Pampanga account for more than half of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The movement of people and commodities from Bulacan to Batangas, for instance, slows to a snail pace in Metro Manila due to absence of alternative route to the crowded Edsa.
Average car speed in Metro Manila was less than 17 kilometers per hour in the 1990s and have slowed further this decade after the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) opposed the construction of interchange projects along Edsa.
Too bad, the most ambitious infrastructure project conceived to resolve the problem remains a concept since it was first planned a decade ago.
Called the Circumferential Road 6 (C-6), the project may not take off at all, says one government official, because of the significant amount required.
Ruben Reinoso, director of the National Economic and Development Authority’s (Neda) Infrastructure Staff, cannot be faulted for being pragmatic. The planned 98-kilometer C-6 will have to cut through residential, industrial and commercial sites in eastern part of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal and Cavite.
But Economic Planning Secretary and Neda director general Romulo Neri believes any major infrastructure project, even one as ambitious as C-6, should be pursued as long as it is in line with the concept of value engineering.
Whether C-6 shall be pursued at all remains vague up to this point, considering that other smaller projects approved five years ago, have yet to start.
The government had even shelved other projects amid a fiscal deficit that restrains its capacity to invest in infrastructures.
Infrastructure investment this year is seen at 2.2 percent of GDP (gross domestic product), which could even be lower because Congress has yet to pass the P1.053 trillion national government budget.
Such delay has also caused a delay in the start of infrastructure projects, Neri said.
The government’s infrastructure investments is below the ideal 3 percent of the GDP set by the World Bank and the actual 6 percent to 9 percent invested by such Asian countries as Thailand, Malaysia and China.
C-6 was envisioned to be the final and longest of the six semi-circle roads in Metro Manila. The first five circumferential roads (C-1 to C-5), which are linked by 10 radial roads, (R-1 to R-10), and convey traffic from the northern to southern parts of Manila, have already been built.
Starting from the smallest, which is nearest to Rizal Park (Kilometer Zero) in Manila to the longest and farthest, these roads are C-1, which includes Claro M. Recto Avenue up to P. Burgos; C-2 which includes Tayuman Road up to Quirino Avenue; C-3, which runs from Navotas through Araneta Avenue up to San Juan and then to Gil Puyat Avenue in Makati; C-4, a portion of which has been renamed as Edsa; and the newly built C-5, which actually starts at Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City and extends up to Taguig.
As proposed by government-owned Philippine National Construction Corp. (PNCC) and Indonesian firm Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corp. (CMMTC), C-6 would be built at approximately $1 billion, making it the most expensive road project in the country.
The C-6 project will be composed of the $600-million Metro Manila Tollway (MMT), the 23-km Laguna de Bay Coastal Road (LBCR) and the southern segment of C-6.
CMMTC, the project proponent of Metro Manila Skyway, wants the proposed 48-km MMT to be a part of the skyway project. However, the company has yet to complete its parallel 35-km Skyway linking the North and Luzon Expressway.
A joint venture of PNCC, CMMTC, John Laing of the United Kingdom, construction firm D.M Consunji and Filinvest Corp. had proposed to built LBCR at a cost of $250 million while a joint venture between the Philippine Estates Authority and Malaysian firm Renong Berhad proposed to construct the 18-km southern segment, which would link South Luzon Expressway to the Manila-Cavite Expressway at close to $100 million.
Under the plan, C-6 will run from the North Luzon Expressway Toll Gate in Marilao, Bulacan to Bicutan entrance at the South Luzon Expressway via San Jose del Monte City, Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), San Mateo, Marikina City, Antipolo City, Angono, Taytay, and Taguig.
C-6 will extend southward along the proposed Laguna de Bay Coastal Road up to Muntinlupa City. It will continue up to the Manila-Cavite Expressway in Cavite province.
If completed, vehicles coming from Bulacan to Laguna or Cavite and vice versa would not have to pass Metro Manila through the highly congested Edsa. This would halve the travel time of those vehicles and ease traffic jams in the metropolis.
While the C-6 project was mentioned as a concept as early as 1996 under the Ramos administration, no significant development about the project has taken form since then.
Stradec or the Strategic Alliance Development Corp., the Philippine subsidiary of Indonesia’s PT Citra Lamtero Gung Persada owned by former Indonesian President Suharto, has proposed to undertake the project but its joint venture with PNCC over the $2.5 billion Skyway project remains incomplete to this day.
The newly formed Philippine Infrastructure Corp. (PIC), a subsidiary of the Department of Trade and Industry’s National Development Co. (NDC), has mentioned C-6 as a possible infrastructure investment area, but came short of providing details with its plan.
PIC has yet to source its P100-billion infrastructure fund that is required to start major projects.
In his recent trips to Japan, Trade Secretary Peter Favila cited C-6 as among the three major infrastructure projects that Japanese businessmen can put their money in. The others are the extension of the North Luzon Expressway to Northern Luzon and the construction of a toll road linking Sto. Tomas, Batangas to Quezon province.
The provincial government of Bulacan has also listed C-6 as one of its eight major long-term infrastructure projects.
Reinoso, however, insists that C-6 is still a concept. “This is an ambitious program, an improvement from C-5, that will connect North Luzon Expressway to the South Luzon Expressway, that will traverse the commercial developments in Marikina and the Laguna de Bay coastline,” he said.
“It will be a very ambitious project if pursued, because it will have a tourism and property development component,” he said.
Reinoso says that in order to construct C-6, the proponents must be willing to pour money in raising the embankment at the Marikina Valley by building a viaduct to protect it from flood.
“There is still a long way to go before we see the construction of C-6,” he said.
Perhaps, Edsa must transform into a virtual parking lot first before the government can sense the urgency of undertaking projects as ambitious as C-6. But this might be too late.