[ Manila Bulletin Online ] January 3, 2009

By Genalyn D. Kabiling

Malacañang has ordered the speedy completion of nine ongoing railway projects worth P282.65 billion as well as new roads and bridges this year in a bid to unclog busy highways and crowded city centers particularly Metro Manila.

Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde said the government’s renewed focus on infrastructure development is meant to boost economic growth and create employment in the face of an expected economic slowdown this year.

“We believe that the most urgent challenge the administration is facing right now is finding ways to mitigate and cushion the effects of the global financial crisis on the economy, and sustain the economic gains our country had achieved,” Remonde said in an interview.

Remonde said the government is implementing nine modern railway projects across the country, eight of which are located in the Luzon Urban Beltway, as part of its ambitious goal to decongest Metro Manila by 2010 under the “Beat the Odds” program.

He said the new railway systems are expected not only to speed up travel but also to interconnect North and South Luzon and close the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) loop.

The Luzon rail projects are the LRT Line 1 North Extension; LRT Line 1 South Extension from Baclaran to Bacoor; LRT Line 2 East Extension Project in Masinag, Antipolo; MRT 3 Capacity Expansion; MRT 7; the Northrail Project; Northrail- Southrail Linkage; and Southrail Project Phase I.

The only railway project outside Luzon is the Southrail Project Phases 1B and 2 in Central Philippines.

“Once these railways are completed, they are expected to provide cheaper and faster alternative mode of transportation,” Remonde said.

He said the Northrail Project will reduce travel time from Caloocan to Clark in Pampanga by an hour and 49 minutes. The Northrail-Southrail linkage will make travel from Caloocan City to Calamba, Laguna shorter by an hour and 20 minutes.

On the other hand, travel time from Calamba to Lucena City in Quezon will be shortened from three hours and 21 minutes to 1 hour and 41 minutes once the Southrail project is completed.

The MRT 7 is expected to cut travel time from Caloocan to North Avenue by almost an hour, while the LRT Line 1 North and South extensions will also shorten travel time for commuters, Remonde added.

Remonde said the government will also aggressively implement the construction and improvement of roads and bridges across the country. Majority of the projects are being implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The C5 Expressway (NLEX-SLEX Link) and the South Luzon Expressway Extension (SLEx) Project are being handled by the Toll Regulatory Board, while the Daang-Hari SLEX Link will be implemented by the National Development Company (NDC).

The EDSA Rehabilitation Project is under the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority while the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 2 is being developed by Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corporation.

He said the DPWH and the Office of the Solicitor General have started work on the right-of-way acquisition for Segment 8.1 (Mindanao Avenue to NLEx) of the C5 NLEx- SLEx Link.

The Toll Road 1 (Alabang Viaduct) of the South Luzon Expressway Project was opened to the public last November, while civil works on Toll Road 2 (Sta. Rosa to Calamba) and Toll Road 3 (Calamba to Sto. Tomas, Batangas) are ongoing.

Advance work is being undertaken on the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 2, while pre-construction activities are being prepared by the NDC for the DaangHari Project.

In another measure to decongest Metro Manila, Remonde said the government is pursuing decentralization through the transfer and establishment of new government centers outside the metropolis.

“These new centers shall serve as catalysts of growth by facilitating the entry of investments and other economic activities and eventually create new hubs for business and housing as counter magnets to theNational Capital Region,” he said.

He said the operations of some government agencies are gradually being transferred to various regions. These include the Department of Agriculture to Isabela; Department of Tourism to Cebu City; Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to Davao City; Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to Clark, Pampanga; DPWH to Bicol; and Department of National Defense to Mindanao or Lucena City