Cebu’s future lies underground

By: Jobers R. Bersales November 20,2014 - 11:37 AM

Congressman Raul del Mar has finally put on the table all the hopes of many Cebuanos who have been to modern high-density cities like Singapore, Hong Kong,  New York, Tokyo, and London, with the filing of House Bill No. 5141.

After challenging the Department of Public Works and Highways to build a subway transport system in Cebu, Del Mar went one important step further by filing this timely visionary bill that will finally take Cebu to the future: three tunnels, one for vehicles, another for trains and a third one to channel floodwaters. We now wait for the reaction from the national government and its planning agency, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), on  whether they will see the logic behind Del Mar’s proposal.

What one immediately notices today in the many projects bid out by the DPWH all over the Metro Cebu area is that all of them are not adding new lanes to existing road networks but are either replacing asphalted roads with cement, burying new drainage culverts or adding sidewalks. In fact, as far as I can see, not one project has been carried out to open new roads or road networks. What the DPWH is doing then is to upgrade existing networks. It is not like the international airport, where a new one is expected to rise soon, in response to the steady increase in tourist arrivals and the sprouting of more and more airline companies.

Thus, the challenge from Rep. Del Mar is worth noting and supporting. Transport experts are now warning that Metro Cebu’s existing road network will no longer work by 2020 as more and more spaces are dedicated to commercial buildings, factories, condominiums and high-rise residences in such a cramped 40-kilometer area. Why? Because the increase in the density of population within Metro Cebu area alone is not just steadily rising, it is rising faster than the capacity of transport infrastructure to cope.

The warning signs are all over the place. In certain sections of the city, traffic congestion is happening even when it is not rush hour. The specter of becoming another Metro Manila, where transport infrastructure is added more as a reaction than as a result of forward, visionary 20-year-ahead planning.

With less space available for road expansion and widening, the solution lies underground. And there are many models of underground or subway transport systems all over the world. Closer to home are those of Singapore and Hong Kong, which are built on waterlogged islands. The underground rails and the Clark Quay and Outram Stations in Singapore, for example, are very close to Singapore River and yet they have been superbly maintained.

My only caveat is what Jean Wee, head of the Singapore Monuments and Sites Preservation Board, also warned us when we were in her city to learn about heritage preservation last month. Although Singapore has no earthquake faults and is not in the typhoon belt, she has to contend with the MRT, the underground railway network in her city. Vibrations and continuing construction of additional railway lines and stations, some of them beneath historic structures, keep her busy these days.

The other worry I have is the penchant of Filipino politicians to cheapen the cost of transportation to kowtow to voters, resulting in poor maintenance and shabby service. The cost of subways rail transportation can be quite high and will demand high maintenance.

But then again, such an ambitious project can also signal to investors that they do not have to worry about late employees and delayed work. This is one of the reasons why highly developed countries beckon investors: transport infrastructure is at an optimum where things are as predictable as a train stopping at each station on time, because every minute of delay can be a loss in the millions of dollars. Expect therefore to have more investors taking a hard look at Cebu once a visionary mass transport system is in place.

One need look no further than to see how businesses in Manila are suffering every minute of the day because of traffic gridlock resulting in delays because of a myopic, unplanned, knee-jerk infrastructure program.

Every Cebuano must rally behind HB 5141. Or else we can end up like this nation’s capital very soon.

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TAGS: DPWH, infrastructure, Metro Cebu, NEDA
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