The Philippines dreams of the golden age of infrastructure when gridlock will be a thing of the past and travel time is predictable.
But that image of smooth travel will require an ambitious infrastructure program costing trillions of pesos.
The government plans to spend P8 trillion to P9 trillion, or roughly $160 billion to $180 billion, in the next six years for its boldest infrastructure development program, called “Build, Build, Build!”
The government this year appropriated P847.2 billion in the national budget for infrastructure projects, an equivalent of 5.3 percent of the gross domestic product. This is higher than the 2.6 percent average infrastructure spending of the last six administrations. The Philippines has never reached the 5 percent of GDP threshold for infrastructure spending in the last 30 years.
Infrastructure spending for 2018 alone will rise to P1.13 trillion.
Public Works Secretary Mark Villar said its all systems go for the government’s “Golden Age of Infrastructure” program, which aims to build more roads and bridges throughout the Philippines, with the end goal of decongesting the country, and subsequently, promoting inclusive growth and development.
Villar said the “golden age of infrastructure” was not a dream or a powerpoint presentation. “It’s happening now, we funded it,” he said.
“I want to re-assure that we are on track and this golden age of infrastructure is all systems go. We are working hard to improve the lives and you will feel it very soon. We are almost there. I believe in the next two to three years, you will start feeling the infrastructure program,” Villar said.
The Public Work’s infrastructure program has a budget of P428 billion this year, with P107.8 billion to be spent for traffic decongestion, P18.8 billion for convergence and rural road development, P95.9 billion for integrated and seamless transport system and P104.4 billion for livable, sustainable and resilient communities.
“In 2018, we are expecting to spend around 7 percent of GDP [gross domestic product]. This [would be] at par with our Asian neighbors,” Villar said.
“The significant increase in the infrastructure budget will be used to fund ongoing and proposed major infrastructure projects, which are vital for sustaining high and inclusive growth,” he added.
The Philippines, according to the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report from 2015 to 2016, ranked 95 in the overall quality of infrastructure. The Philippines was behind Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
“We want to create an infrastructure to bring progress to the provinces, to every corner of this country and ultimately we want to bring down the poverty level of the Philippines from 21.6 percent to 14 percent by 2022,” Villar said.
“The significance of this will be lifting about 10 million Filipinos above the poverty line. This program is so essential because in order to do this, we need to pump prime the economy. We need to put the money in areas where it could be productive and in areas that will give us good economic rate of return,” he said.
The government targets an economic growth of 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent this year and 7 percent to 8 percent from 2018 to 2022.
The Public Works Department said 15 ongoing projects are being implemented by agency that are either locally funded with Official Development Assistance (ODA) loans, or through the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme.
The ongoing projects include the Mandaluyong Main Drainage Project (Phase II); Central Luzon Link Expressway, Phase I, Tarlac-Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija; Integrated Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Measures in the Low Lying Areas of Pampanga Bay; Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (Binalonan-Rosario Section), Flood Risk Management Project (FRIMP) in Cagayan de Oro River; and the Sen. Gil Puyat Ave.-Paseo de Roxas/Makati Ave. Vehicle Underpass Project.
Villar said all these projects would significantly boost growth and raise productivity and competitiveness.
Besides its current projects, the DPWH is also set to either oversee or implement 10 infra projects in Metro Manila and Mindanao.
These are the Bonifacio Global City-Ortigas Center Link Road Project; UP-Miriam-Ateneo Viaduct along C-5/ Katipunan; Metro Manila Priority Bridges Seismic Improvement Project (Guadalupe Bridge and Lambingan Bridge); Widening/Improvement of Gen. Luis St.-Kaybiga-Polo-Novaliches; Cavite-Laguna Expressway; NLEX-SLEX Connector Road; Metro Manila Interchange Construction Project VI; Davao City By-Pass Construction Project (South Section (Road) and Center Section (Tunnel); Panguil Bay Bridge, and Phase 1 of the Metro Manila Flood Management Project.
The NLEX-SLEX Connector Road is an 8-kilometer, four lane NLEX-SLEX Connector Road that will run from C3 Road in Caloocan City to Sta. Mesa in Manila and will connect to the common alignment of Skyway Stage 3.
It will provide connectivity between the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and the Clark International Airport (CRK). It is expected to reduce travel time from SLEX to NLEX from 2 hours to just 20 minutes as well as travel time from Clark to Calamba from approximately 3 hours to 1 hour and 40 minutes. The road is expected to benefit at least 35,000 motorists/vehicles per day.
The Public Works Department also plans build a 180-kilometer toll road that will start in Pagbilao, Quezon and end at the existing Maharlika Highway in San Fernando, Camarines Sur. Once completed, it will be longer than the 94-km Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, the 89-km Tarlac, Pangasinan-La Union Expressway and the 84-km North Luzon Expressway.
The project aims to provide a safe and direct route to the provinces of Bicol, in place of the existing route that traverses through the mountainside and other fragmentary roads.
The Quezon-Bicol Expressway will be connected to the P13.10-billion South Luzon Expressway Toll Road 4, a 56.87-kilometer expressway extension from Sto. Tomas, Batangas to Tayabas/Lucena in Quezon.
The TR 4 project will reduce travel time from Sto. Tomas, Batangas to Lucena in Quezon from four hours to one hour.
The project, which is expected to start this year and will be completed by 2021, will benefit 17,000 travelers per day.
Other infrastructure projects under DPWH that are in the pipeline include the Panay-Guimaras-Negros Link Project; EDSA-Taft Flyover; Central Luzon Link Expressway, Phase II, Cabanatuan-San Jose, Nueva Ecija; Flood Protection Works in the Marikina River including Retarding Basin; and the Dalton Pass East Alignment Alternative Road Project.
Another six big-ticket projects funded through PPPs are also either being proposed by the DPWH or already in the pipeline. These include the R-7 Expressway, Manila Bay Integrated Flood Control, Coastal Defense and Expressway and the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike.