Decongesting the infrastructure problem

Business Mirror.com.ph by Rizal Raoul Reyes, 12-02-2014

TO sustain the country's economic growth, the government must implement solid measures toward solving the traffic and inefficient transport system, especially in the metropolis.

In a recent briefing held recently in Makati City, Jose Carmelo Porciuncula, head of business operations and capital markets of KMC MAG Group Inc., said the country's poor and inadequate infrastructure costs P2.4 billion a day. He said the country is not short of solutions in solving the infrastructure problem.

"All the things needed to improve the traffic situation are ready and waiting for the go signal," said Porciuncula in an interview with the BusinessMirror.

To begin with, he said the plans are there, "such as the Japan International Coordinating Agency's (Jica) Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Metro Manila and Its Surrounding Areas." Government agencies such as the Department of Transportation and Communications, Department of Public Works and Highways, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, and other relevant agencies closely in coordination with Jica cited the need for strategies to reduce traffic congestion significantly before it impacts the lower-income group who will be hardest hit when congestion worsens by 2030.

"The study shows possible ideas, technologies and strategies that can help the Philippines address traffic congestion and air pollution in Metro Manila. Jica hopes to work with the government in implementing some of these ideas to help improve mobility, and the quality of life of people as well as their surrounding areas," said Jica Philippines senior representative Eigo Azukizawa in a statement posted on Jica's web site.

"Financial resources are not a problem, as the Philippines can easily access funds for such projects as it enjoys a good credit standing from the credit rating agencies. The Philippines has the best credit ratings it has ever had that results in a cheaper debt," said Porciuncula.

Among the strategies listed in the Jica study at the regional level are spreading economic activities to other potential growth areas, including balancing development of agriculture, manufacturing and services, protecting prime agricultural areas for food security, avoiding urban sprawl in hazard risk areas, promoting growth of regional centers, strengthening connectivity, and improving public transport services and logistics.

The study called for the implementation of an Intelligent Transport System, or ITS, to maximize the city's existing road capacity. Jica noted the ITS aims to establish better traffic engineering and management that requires geometric improvements, pedestrian facilities, traffic surveillance, accident prevention, traffic safety education and traffic enforcement. An example of ITS, as discussed in the study, requires a signal control system, travel time prediction, road maintenance, intelligent parking, incident detection and bus scheduling assistance, among others.

However, Porciuncula lamented the lackadaisical pace of implementation.  "The main issue is lack of political will," he said. Decongesting Metro Manila is a step in the right direction as part of the regional development plan. This should include the setting of urban areas outside the proximity of Metro Manila such as Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan.

Porciuncula said the government must also craft a spatial development concept that would develop an integrated transportation and road networks, connecting the North Luzon Expressway and South Luzon Expressway, establishment of a high-quality and capacity mass transit system, gateway port development and gateway airport development (Sangley Point) and integration of all road transportation networks.

He said upgrading the country's infrastructure is quite important to ensure the sustainability of the tourism industry as it continues to attract more foreign tourists. Tourism department data reported that foreign tourist arrivals from January to September 2014 reached 3.59 million, higher by 2.57 percent as compared to the 3.50 million from the same period last year.

However, Porciuncula said that there is still a lot to be done as the biggest hindrance to growth is the infrastructure's limited capacity. "The rehabilitation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport is purely cosmetic, and the infrastructure still lacks support to accommodate more planes," he said.

"There is a need for more runways or airports in order to absorb more transit arrivals. The hotel and leisure industry is all about access."