TOMAS WON’T BLOCK LRT PROJECT
Mayor sees proposal as ploy to stop BRT; but biz leader considers LRT better traffic solution
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña will not stop the proposed $3-billion Cebu Light Rail Transit (LRT) project even if he has some questions about it.
He asked the reliability of the LRT which costs at least P150 billion — money that may be better spent on road widening to ease traffic.
Still, he said he would not block the project financed by a Chinese-led consortium, saying it was his duty to listen to all proposals.
But Osmeña said he believed the proposed LRT project was just an attempt to stop his pet project — Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which was already in the implementation stage.
He pointed out that the LRT was supported by Secretary Michael Dino, Presidential Assistant for the Visayas, who had long been opposed to the mayor’s BRT project.
But in a statement sent to Cebu Daily News on Monday by his legal counsel, Josie Antonette Uy, Dino denied any involvement in the project that was supposed to start construction in 2022.
“Although Mr. Dino is fully supportive of the Light Rail Transit system as an efficient and convenient mass transport system in Cebu, it must be clarified that said LRT project is a private undertaking of the consortium who themselves issued the press report, and that OPAV is not involved in the project nor of the statements made about the said project,” Uy said.
The lawyer added that the OPAV did not release any statement about the proposed project as reported in CDN’s page one story on Monday.
In the statement, a consortium composed of five local and foreign companies had proposed to construct the Cebu LRT, at no cost to the government although the implementing agency would still be the Department of Transportation (DOTr).
Chris Kou, consortium’s representative, was quoted in the statement that the LRT would 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.”
The proposed elevated LRT will traverse through the cities of Naga, Carcar, Talisay and the towns of San Fernando, Minglanilla in the south and up to Danao City in the north. But Osmeña was not impressed.
“They now have a consortium (but) it doesn’t mean anything to me,” he told in a news conference.
“It’s my duty to listen to everything but let me tell you my reservations: they’re just looking for an excuse to cancel the BRT,” he added.
Although he would not block the proposed LRT project, the mayor said he would not let go of BRT, a P17-billion project that was supposed to be operational by 2016 but had been pushed back to 2021 due to various reasons including the change of design, failures to finalize necessary documents, to name some.
“Until they have something concrete and will truly benefit the city, I would not go along with the dismantling of the BRT,” Osmeña said.
He asked about the reliability of the LRT project which he said cost 10 times more than the BRT.
“It only has to break down once and you can find out. It’s not reliable. Our whole economy will be disrupted,” Osmeña said.
He pointed out that it would be more beneficial to the public if portions of P150 billion used to fund the LRT be spent on widening existing roads.
“But let’s just say the government is willing to spend P150 billion for the LRT. Let’s just say that. Is there a better way to spend P150 billion? I think so, I think there’s a better way,” the mayor said.
“We will spend the P17 billion on the BRT, and the balance of P130 billion, we will widen the roads so that there will be two lanes in each side,” he added.
“If you’re going to spend P150 billion, why would you give them to the friends of Michael Dino in Singapore? They’re not even from here. I would rather spend the money on Cebu City landowners (for the right-of-way acquisition),” the mayor added.
Despite its high cost, a business leader still believed that the LRT would be a better solution to traffic than the mayor’s BRT.
“Instead of wasting money on a transportation system that is inappropriate in venue and that experts say will not succeed, why not go into LRT immediately?” said Gordon Allan “Dondi” Joseph, president of Cebu Business Club who sits as executive committee chair of the Metro Cebu Development and Coordinating Board (MCDCB).
MCDCB is a coordinating body for metro-wide planning and development on long-term and sustainable projects in 12 local government units in Metro Cebu.
Joseph is also chairperson of Integrated Development Committee that includes developments and discussions on land use, traffic and infrastructure of the MCDCB.
Along with the LRT, Joseph said a holistic traffic management approach can be implemented such as intelligent traffic light systems, trained traffic enforces, enforcement of traffic laws and better designed intersections.
He stressed that the BRT is “poorly designed, off implemented and will most likely fail.”
“The conditions needed for the success of the ill-fated BRT do not exist in Cebu City. The roads are too narrow — and no road widening is planned (except in depots and stations) which means that a four-lane road will only have two narrow lanes left for vehicles,” he said.
Joseph said Cebu’s roads have too many intersections, no dedicated bus lanes for phase 2 and low carrying capacity, which means that the jeepneys will still be required.
Joseph said the Cebu BRT will require at least two full lanes plus a lane for the waiting area. “Imagine what will happen if a car or truck breaks down and blocks the single available lane — or if there is an accident?” he said.
Joseph said they were invited to a dinner by World Bank executives in charge of the BRT and they raised these issues.
He said they were told that the issues would be corrected in the engineering design.
“But they didn’t. They said that we need to push through with the BRT because the money is there already,” he said.
While BRT has succeeded in other countries, Joseph said French, Japanese and Filipino experts whom he have had conversations with told him that the elements for a successful BRT do not exist in Cebu.
“The BRT in its present design will manage about 20 percent of required passenger capacity. This means they won’t be able to take the jeepneys off the roads,” he said.
“What Cebu needs is an intelligent traffic management system that integrates the right solutions like smart traffic lights, intersection improvements, traffic law enforcement and LRT/rail options, among others. We need experts to plan this – not politicians,” added Joseph.
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