Infrastructure News Analysis

Could Skybridge get off the ground?

The Metro Manila Skybridge (aka, the San Juan River Expressway), a proposed 14-kilometre road that would link Quezon City to the Makati business district in the Philippines’ capital – alleviating the daily gridlock along the Edsa beltway, and cutting the average travel time between the two areas from 40 minutes to 15 – might just get off the ground. That will depend very much on the view of incoming secretary of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Mark Villar, who will have the capital’s near-fabled traffic-congestion problems high on his agenda.

The plan’s author, former chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Francis Tolentino, a former Mayor of Tagaytay who made a failed run for the Philippine Senate as an Independent candidate in the 2016 elections, has argued passionately for the scheme for six years. In March, he unveiled the larger road scheme – a six-lane elevated carriageway, three lanes in each direction – saying that the need for the Skybridge was even greater now than when he first proposed it.

In 2010, when the plan was first put forward – then it was for a 6.75-km highway from E Rodriguez Avenue, Quezon City to J.P. Rizal Street in Makati – there were 1.7 million vehicles on the roads of Metro Manila. Today there are 2.4 million with a projected annual increase of 300,000.

Although the MMDA endorsed Tolentino’s scheme and the DPWH approved it in 2012, the National Economic Development Agency (NEDA), determined that it should be funded by means of a public-private partnership. And that’s the end of the trail. So Tolentino’s Skybridge  is either languishing in the in tray at the NEDA awaiting scheduling for a feasibility study, or it’s languishing in the in-tray of the Public Private Partnership Center (PPPC). Meanwhile, 250,000-plus vehicles stagger through Edsa every day.

Back in 2010, construction time for the project was estimated at 24 months; the cost estimate was US$21.55 million – a figure which Tolentino believes could have been paid for out of the national budget and not require funding through the PPPC. The price of building this road in 2016 is likely to be considerably higher, though no estimate has been done at today’s prices. Whatever it is though, it will be dwarfed by the US$64 million which the Japan International Cooperation Agency says Manila’s traffic sclerosis is costing the economy daily (see: Traffic – the killer of Manila).

While Tolentino will be hoping his scheme will gain favour with Villar’s DWPH, it might get support from an even higher authority – President-Elect, Rodrigo Duterte who endorsed Tolentino’s run for the Senate. The former MMDA chairman was part of Duterte’s stage entourage at the 4 June thanksgiving celebration in Davao City.

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