It’s never been done before. Fifteen road projects are being launched almost at the same time in different parts of Metropolitan Manila. These are not minor projects; they are big-ticket infrastructure undertakings that will run into billions of pesos and take years to complete.
The objective of the colossal exercise is praiseworthy enough: to improve the flow of transportation in and around Metro Manila by connecting major road arteries and improving existing ones, in the process reducing travel time and cutting losses from man-hours wasted on long commutes.
The biggest project is Skyway 3, a 14.8-kilometer elevated highway that will link South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) to North Luzon Expressway (NLEX).
Work on Skyway 3 officially began last night, and by today the project will be in full swing.
But there is little applause as the project commenced.
Instead, what is palpable is a general feeling of dread. There is widespread apprehension that with all the roadworks going on, traffic in Metro Manila could develop into a monster gridlock.
The government has tried to assure the public that it is doing all it can to prevent traffic from seizing up, but the assurances do not seem to dispel fears the metropolis is in for a mega crisis.
What is disturbing is that our officials seem to be ill-prepared to handle the fallout from the construction binge. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority held a summit last week to discuss ways to prevent massive road jams. Holding such a summit just days before the projects get under way reeks of poor planning on the part of the authorities.
As expected, nothing substantial came out of the summit.
Proposals were tossed around, but there was no serious effort to set them in motion.
One suggestion was to adopt a four-day school week in Metro Manila, but that’s easier said than done. Such a scheme needs the approval of school officials and will need a lot of study.
Another proposal is for offices in the metropolis to switch to a four-day work schedule. The hitch is that not all companies can be easily persuaded to embrace this scheme, and the MMDA lacks the authority to enforce it.
Why not revive the Pasig River ferry service, someone suggested. The MMDA chairman finds the proposal attractive, but the fact is big problems stand in the way. The Pasig ferry closed down because there were too few passengers to support its operation. To refloat it, the MMDA will have to find an operator who’s willing to invest a substantial sum and take big risks.
Many other proposals surfaced at the summit, and they may be worth a look. But can they be implemented at such short notice?
Had the summit been held, say, in the middle of last year, things would have been different. There would have been time to go over each proposal and fine-tune it before it is approved and rolled out for implementation.
There is another, equally pressing concern. In the rush to finish the projects before President Benigno Aquino 3rd ends his term and present them as his legacy, some contractors could resort to short cuts and sacrifice quality. Can we be assured that Skyway3, for example, will not be a white elephant that will haunt the President long after he has left office?
Amid all this, Malacañang is asking the public to be patient while the projects are in progress.
Three years is a long time, and the people’s patience wears thin fast.