By Morexette Marie B. Erram |April 15,2018 - 10:26 PM

Is the fate of the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) now in limbo?

The Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV) yesterday announced that the proposal to construct the Cebu Light Rail Transit (LRT) is now taking shape in the Department of Transportation (DOTr), which also happens to be the implementing agency of the BRT project.

Furthermore, the OPAV revealed that a Chinese-dominated consortium composed of at least five local and foreign companies has been formed, all of which have committed their participation to the project that is estimated to cost US$3 billion or roughly P155 billion.

In a statement sent to reporters yesterday, OPAV Secretary Michael Dino quoted Chris Kou, the consortium’s representative and project developer, as saying that the project will be led by Tjen Hian Ka as its senior consultant.

Ka is the senior director of a Singapore-based architectural firm, SAA Group of Architects, which also happens to be one of the largest architectural firms in Southeast Asia with branches in Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, and in Shanghai, China, according to the OPAV.

The LRT is expected to start construction by 2022, or four years from now, it said.

Dino said the LRT will be constructed with “zero cost to the government, to be operated without government subsidy, and without government guarantee” since it will be funded by the One Belt One Road program of the Chinese government, which is supported by several Chinese companies including Guangzhou Metro China, Guangzhou Metro & Design Institute China, Anhui Shengyun Environmental Protection Group Co (China), Guangdong Hydropower Co. Ltd. China, Harvest Global Investment Pte Ltd, Singapore.

Local companies such as the Sinophile Sheng Yun Management Inc., and Udenna Infrastructure Corp., which is owned and led by Davao-based tycoon Dennis Uy, are also part of the consortium.

‘Better alternative’

Dino, a vocal critic of the BRT, has been lobbying for the LRT since last year, as it is a “better alternative than the BRT” in addressing the growing traffic problem in Metro Cebu.

The appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte insisted that the BRT will no longer work in Cebu City due to its narrow roads.

His office’s announcement over the weekend came barely a week since the implementation of the BRT hits another snag due to the recent reorganization of its Project Implementation Unit (PIU), wherein the DOTr fired 13 of its 40 workers.

Dino earlier admitted that he had a hand on the reorganization of the PIU as a means to stop the implementation of BRT.

His actions got the ire of Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña who had been pushing for the P17-billion project since the 1990s.

The World Bank-funded BRT was supposed to begin construction in 2014 and be operational by 2016. However, its target completion date has been pushed back to 2021, or five years later.

On the other hand, the proposed LRT that the OPAV is backing is the fourth mass transportation system alternative eyed to solve traffic in Metro Cebu.

It can be recalled that last March 13, the Cebu City Government, through Mayor Osmeña, entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Makati-based Tranzen Group Inc. to conduct a feasibility study of their version of an LRT.

Tranzen’s proposed LRT, which will cover the entire Metro Cebu, including Mactan Island, is estimated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) to cost P80 billion. Its study is targeted to be completed before this year ends.

Osmeña earlier said he welcomed Tranzen’s proposal as their version of LRT can coexist with the BRT since both modes of transportation complement each other.

During the meeting last March 1 of the Regional Development Council in Central Visayas (RDC-7), another group, the PhilTram Transportation Consortium Inc., also offered to build the Cebu monorail project at an estimated cost of US$1 billion (P52 billion).

PhilTram’s unsolicited proposal is expected to be submitted to the national office of DOTr within this month.

LRT design

Dino revealed that Ka has begun coordinating with the DOTr on their proposal of an LRT in Metro Cebu during the last quarter of 2017, and that this will be implemented through a design-finance-build-transfer and manage project.

The proposed LRT will be an elevated one with its subway section in Cebu City, and goes above ground beyond it. Similar to Tranzen’s version, it will cover the entire Metro Cebu.

It will be implemented in two phases.

“There will be two lines under phase 1 that will cover the Metro Cebu area. This phase comprises the Central Line and the Airport Line with bridge crossing from Cebu’s mainland to Mactan Island. Phase 1 will also provide research, development, and technical support center for building local skills related to rail eco-system,” said Dino, quoting Kou.

The second phase, on the other hand, will be a commuter rail, with its implementation to be subjected to factors such as economic, population, future, and modern transport needs.

Who is Tjen Hian Ka and SAA Group of Architects?

Meanwhile, data obtained by Cebu Daily News revealed that Ka has been active in the architectural industry since 1986, and was the senior consultant for the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium in China (US $80 million), and at least six expansions of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) in Singapore, from 1998 to 2016, totaling to (Singaporean dollars) S$ 1.96 billion.

Ka, an architecture graduate from the University of Hawaii, is also the senior consultant for the construction of the Terminal 3 in Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, which is expected to start construction in 2019, and has a price tag of US$ 100 million.

If it pushes through, the Cebu LRT will be Ka’s first project for the Philippines.

On the other hand, SAA Group of Architects, founded in 1965, ranked 40 in Architect Magazine’s (formerly known as the Journal of American Institute of Architects) list of Top 50 architectural firms in the world for 2017, with a score of 80.4.

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