MANILA -- The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is pursuing various transportation projects to ease the traffic congestion in Metro Manila and promote ease of travel among commuters.

For this year, the national government has launched the “Build, Build, Build” program to promote economic growth and decongest the National Capital Region ushering in a "golden age of infrastructure" in the Philippines during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Under this program, the Duterte administration seeks to build infrastructures that will provide connectivity of the rural areas to key cities across the country, enabling to attain the vision for the Philippines to become a middle income economy in 2022.

Promoting linkages in Metro Manila and provinces through railways

Improving the railway system is considered as one of the most effective means to transport people, goods and services from the provinces to the Metro Manila.

Taking this into consideration, the DOTr has led the groundbreaking of the extension of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system to nearby areas in the metropolis.

The LRT Line 1 Extension has started its construction extending the rail line from Baclaran to Niog in Bacoor, Cavite, serving around 300,000 riders per day from Parañaque, Las Piñas, and Cavite and is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2021.

DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade has appealed to its private sector partner LRT-1 operator Light Rail Manila Corporation (LRMC) to expedite its construction without undermining and sacrificing the quality and intended costs.

It also signed with the Mitsubishi Corporation for the purchase of new 120 light rail vehicles (LRVs) for the railway system. Each train set would have a minimum of 1,388 passengers, are energy efficient and have low maintenance cost.

The LRT Line 2 East Extension Project involves the construction of a 4-kilometer extension of the existing system from Santolan, Pasig City to Masinag in Antipolo, Rizal.

Two additional stations will be built namely Emerald Station, which will be located in front of Robinsons Metro East and Sta. Lucia in Cainta, Rizal and the Masinag Station to be located before the Masinag Junction in Antipolo City. It is expected to reduce travel time from Masinag to Recto in Manila from 3 hours by 30 to 40 minutes once completed by August 2018.

The construction of the first phase of the Mega Manila Subway Project (MMSP) is expected to start as early as third quarter of 2018.

The PHP355.6 billion MMSP Phase 1, financed through an Official Development Assistance (ODA) from Japan,  will have fourteen stations from Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City up to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The 25-kilometer subway system is envisioned to be an underground mass transportation system connecting major business districts and government centers which is expected to serve 370,000 passengers daily in its opening year.

The MMSP is expected to start its partial operations by fourth quarter of 2025 while its completion is set on 2027.

The LRT-MRT Common Station has likewise started its construction last September following a memorandum of agreement that was signed last January  by the government, Metro Pacific Investments Corp. Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan, SMPH Director Hans T. Sy, Ayala Corp. CEO Jaime Zobel de Ayala, and SMC President and CEO Ramon S. Ang, ending an eight year impasse over its location.

The Common Station will connect the LRT-1, MRT-3, and MRT-7 which will traverse from North Avenue, Quezon City to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan province, as well as the proposed Mega Manila Subway System.

The 13,700-square meter station will be built between SM North EDSA and Trinoma with a spacious concourse area that will facilitate the seamless transfer of passengers from one line to another.

Tugade said building the Common Station is a manifestation of the government’s commitment to ensure the comfort of commuters.

“We want to thank our private sector partners for making the Common Station a reality. They have set aside their private interests for the good of the country. We will finish this project for the convenience of the riding public,” Tugade said during its groundbreaking ceremony.

DOTr expects the common station to be operational by 2020, catering to at least 478,000 passengers daily.

Development of regional airports

A major project being pursued by the department under the aviation sector is the development of the Clark International Airport as an alternative international gateway to the congested NAIA in Paranaque City.

The DOTr and the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) led the groundbreaking ceremony of the Clark International Airport Expansion Project last December 20.

The project involves the construction of a PHP 9.36 billion new passenger terminal building spanning 100,000 square meters which can accommodate an additional 8 million passengers  to  the existing 4 million passengers for a total of 12 million passengers yearly and is expected to be operational by 2020.

Megawide-GMR won the bid to build the terminal, after going through a very stringent and transparent bidding process which was monitored by the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank, beating four other bidders for the design, engineering and construction of the new airport terminal building.

The firm submitted the lowest financial proposal for the project amounting to PHP9.36 billion 25 percent below the ceiling price of PHP12.55 billion.

The construction of the new terminal is the first hybrid project under the Build, Build, Build program of the Duterte administration.

Under the hybrid mode, the government will build the infrastructure using its own funds to ensure swift delivery of the project while the operations and maintenance will be bidded off to the private sector.

The BCDA is expected to bid out the operations and maintenance of the Clark International Airport to the private sector next year. It is also being eyed to be connected to the 106 kilometer Manila-Clark Railway project which is expected to reduce travel time from Manila to Clark to 55 minutes from the present two hours.

A new terminal in the Puerto Princesa International Airport was opened spanning 13,000 square meters with a 2,600 meter runway which can accommodate bigger aircrafts. It is expected to have an annual capacity of around 2 million passengers.

DOTr likewise resumed the construction of landside facilities in the Bicol International Airport after 11 years of delay. The facilities will consist of 17 buildings: administration, cargo terminal, air traffic control, crash fire rescue, air traffic control, power house, maintenance, material recovery facilities, pump room and water reservoir, chilled water pumphouse, chlorination house 1 and 2, guard houses and the quarters of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and is expected to be completed by 2019. The project seeks to develop a new airport with international standards and would replace the existing Legaspi City Airport to accommodate bigger aircraft and serve a larger volume of passengers.

Expansion and improvement projects in Bacolod (Silay) Airport, Davao International Airport, Iloilo Airport, and Laguindingan Airport as well as runway lengthening and widening in Kalibo, Virac, Calbayog, Ozamiz and Cotabato.

Rehabilitation and expansion of airports in Naga, Tuguegarao, Cauayan, Dumaguete, Dipolog, Cotabato, Pagadian, and Ozamiz are ongoing to make them capable for night flight operations.

An additional 10 air radars were established across the country bringing the total to 13 covering 85 percent of Philippine air space. The Communications Navigation Surveillance / Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM), a state-of-the-art and satellite-based air traffic management system is expected to be fully operational by this month.

Furthermore, the NAIA is no longer included in the top 20 worst airports in the world and even in the top 5 worst airports in Asia according to “The Guide to Sleeping in Airports” travel website posted on October 15, 2017.

Among the reforms implemented in the NAIA during the Duterte administration were the restriction on general aviation to prioritize commercial flights and reduce flight delays; the imposition of the five-minute rule where pilots who declare they are ready to take off must depart within the prescribed time or they would be put back at the back of the queue to reduce flight delays and instill discipline among airlines; the construction of Rapid Exit Taxiways to allow an aircraft to leave the runway at higher speed and increase flight movements; provision of  cleaner toilets additional seats, free Wi-Fi, and Well-Wishers’ Area. Regular taxis were also allowed to queue and pick-up passengers at designated points in NAIA terminals to address shortage of taxi units servicing passengers.

There has been no single incidence of a passenger missing a flight for possessing a bullet. Passengers no longer feel the need to wrap bags and luggages in plastic or masking tapes.

Launching of country’s first RORO barge terminal

The DOTr also led the groundbreaking of the Cavite Gateway Terminal which is the country’s first container roll-on roll-off  (RORO) barge terminal.

Located in a six-hectare property in Tanza, Cavite, the terminal, which will be operated by the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), will facilitate the seaborne transport of containers between the Port of Manila and Cavite and service industrial locators in the Cavite area. It is expected to reduce truck trips in Metro Manila by 140,000 trips annually, while maximizing the use of the country’s nautical highways.

The terminal is expected to be operational by first quarter of 2018.

Several ports in the country are also being improved and modernized namely Iloilo, General Santos, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, Basco, Bataraza, Calapan, Catagbacan, Dapitan, Larena, Legazpi, Makar, Matnog, Opol, Tacloban, Tagbilaran, Tubigon, Iligan and Surigao.

PUV Modernization Program and revitalized I-ACT

The DOTr has issued its Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG) as part of the Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program which seeks to provide safe, comfortable and environmentally sustainable mode of public transport to commuters.

Under the OFG, public transport routes will be planned by local government units (LGUs) based on the current and projected travel patterns in their respective areas. These routes will be contained in the Local Public Transport Route Plan (LPTRP) of LGUs which will serve as basis for franchise issuance by the Land Transportation, Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

The LTFRB will require existing operators to consolidate into cooperatives or consortiums to gain better access to resources, share operations and maintenance costs and maximize profits thru efficient vehicle dispatch.

An estimated PHP1.5 billion will be given to transport corporations and cooperatives to purchase new PUVs through the Development Bank of the Philippines’ Program Assistance to Support Alternative Driving Approaches (PASADA). The program will feature a 5-percent equity for vehicle purchase, 6-percent interest rate and seven-year repayment period.

Under PASADA, a maximum of 95 percent of the cost of the vehicle, and a maximum of 75 percent of the cost of the support facilities comprise the total loan per borrower. The government will also offer a maximum subsidy of PHP80,000 to cover the equity payment.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Landbank of the Philippines was also signed by the DOTr to set up a PHP 1 billion financing for public utility jeepneys (PUJs) via the Special Environment-Friendly and Efficiently Driven (SPEED) Jeepney Program.

Under the PUV Modernization Program,  jeepney units that are 15 years old will be replaced with Euro 4 engines or electrically-powered engines with solar panels for roofs. These will also be equipped with closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, a GPS navigation system, an Automatic Fare Collection System (AFCS), speed limiters, dashboard cameras, and Wi-Fi.

For its part, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) has started issuing license cards with 5 year validity across the country. These licenses have biometric features under the Automated Fingerprint Identification System to ensure uniqueness of every card produced and added information to complete the necessary personal details of the licensee such as blood type, holder options as organ donor, and the person to be notified in case of emergency, including the contact numbers.

To manage the traffic congestion in Metro Manila and its nearby areas, the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic (I-ACT) has expanded its coverage to the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan, and Rizal.

Its operations need to be extended to the nearby provinces of the National Capital Region as the traffic situation in these areas significantly affect the traffic condition in the metropolis according to DOTr Undersecretary and concurrent Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) General Manager Thomas Orbos.

I-ACT will continue clearing major thoroughfares which includes Alabang-Zapote Road, Sucat Road, R-10 and Roxas Boulevard that can serve as alternate route for motorists. Operations versus illegal parking, colorum and out of line vehicles, illegal terminals will also be intensified.

The I-ACT which originally consists of the MMDA, Philippine National Police -Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG), DOTr, LTFRB and the LTO is now joined by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Metro Manila mayors who compose the Metro Manila Council (MMC), Liga ng mga Barangay ng Pilipinas, and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).  (PNA)