DURING the presidential debates, the candidates were asked how they would solve Metro Manila’s traffic mess, especially on EDSA. I heard answers ranging from improving the services of our Mass Transit System, adding more coaches on MRT and LRT lines, more point-to-point BRT services, restricting the use of private cars on certain hours in certain areas, building more roads like C-6, etc. These are solutions but they provide only palliatives. Constructing C-6 may help but like C-5, it would be just as congested as EDSA as soon as it is finished.
Just like the bridge-tunnel across Tokyo Bay
Metro Manila’s problem is that its traffic system is not the ideal system of rings and radials like that of Tokyo, Washington, DC or Houston. EDSA, C-5 and C-6 are not rings but only crescents.
Second, there is only one arterial road that connects Bicol Region and Southern Luzon with Central and Northern Luzon through Metro Manila, and that is EDSA. MetroManila’s vehicles alone are already more than enough to clog EDSA. It has a vehicle density of 3,700 vehicles per square kilometer, higher than New York’s 2,500. Every year, more than 150,000 vehicles are added.
So, why not a TransManila Bay Bridge-Tunnel connecting Bataan-Corregidor and Cavite?
If there are 18 million trips done daily by 13 million inhabitants in Metro Manila, add to this the pass-through traffic from Southern Luzon to Central and Northern Luzon and vice-versa, and we know why traffic crawls on EDSA. There is only one arterial road that connects Southern Luzon to Central Luzon through Metro Manila, and that is EDSA. This pass-through traffic need not go through Metro Manila if the Cavite-Corregidor-Bataan connection is constructed. Even the resistance of Southern Luzon residents to designating the Diosdado Macapagal Airport in Clark as alternate international airport to NAIA will soften. Cavite will not be more than an hour away from Clark, the same time that it takes to motor from Tokyo to Narita. It is not the one-hour driving time that poses an issue to airline passengers, it is the predictability of the one-hour driving time. Passengers will just allow one hour for the trip provided it is predictable.
Japan’s Tokyo Aqualine, a bridge-tunnel across Tokyo Bay, provided the solution to the same problem Metro Manila is facing now. Motorists from Yokohama need not go around Metro Tokyo to reach Chiba Prefecture. They just cross Tokyo Bay through the bridge-tunnel. Similarly, motorists from Bataan and the rest of Central Luzon need not go around Metro Manila to go to Cavite and the rest of Southern Luzon. They can cross the Bataan-Corregidor-Cavite Trans Manila Bay Bridge-Tunnel. All the road segments to complete The Big Loop connecting Central Luzon, MetroManila and Southern Luzon are already there: the expanded Roman Hiway, SCTEx, TPLEx, NLEx, Skyway Connector, SLEx, and CAVITEx. The only missing link is the TransManila Bay Cavite-Corregidor-Bataan Bridge-Tunnel.
TransManila Bay Crossing Sketch Plan
Technically, it will be easier to construct the Trans Manila Bay Bridge-Tunnel because there is Corregidor and the small isles where roads and bridges can be constructed. The tunnel would only be necessary in the southern channel to Cavite. Also, there would be no Right of Way issue to contend with.
Tunneling under the sea is no rocket science. Aside from Tokyo Aqualine, Paris and London have long been connected by a tunnel under the English Channel. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) connects SF and Oakland under the Bay. Europe and Asia are connected through the Bosphorus. You drive from Kowloon to Hong Kong through undersea tunnel. And we cannot connect two provinces?
Whether by Government or PPP, or a reverse PPP as what has happened to the SCTEx, it is now time for the Trans Manila Bay Bridge-Tunnel project to be realized. After the Government through BCDA constructed SCTEx, MNTC has taken over the operations, repair and maintenance of SCTEx through a Business Operations Agreement. It also shared 50 percent of the toll revenues with the Government which was more than sufficient to pay for the debt service to JICA. BCDA has rid itself of its debt service obligations while MTC, a private entity, has, in effect, availed itself of JICA’s 40-year term loan with concessionary interest (less than 1 percent.)
It is time now for the new Administration to think bold, or Metro Manila will be uninhabitable in 20 years (five years, according to the American Chamber of Commerce). Growth should be pushed outside of Metro Manila.
Can we afford the cost? The traffic gridlock is already costing us P2.5 billion a day, according to JICA! And think of the opportunity in connecting three Regions with combined population of close to 40 million people.
Felicito C. Payumo is formerly congressman of the First District of Bataan (1987-1998). He was also chairman of the House Committee on Public Works and Highways and on Economic Affairs, as well as chairman and administrator of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (1998-2004) and chairman of the Bases Conversion Development Authority.