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Phl needs long term plan to address mobility issue, increase productivity, study reveals

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By Victoria “NIKE” De Dios

It is undeniable that traffic affects productivity coupled with stress and anxiety. The issue of mobility and connectivity remains a challenge in the Philippines given the limited transportation infrastructure plan unlike in the other neighbors in the ASEAN region.

Hence, experts pointed out that it is empirical to prepare a long-term national transportation infrastructure plan that can help implementers and stakeholders prepare, enforce, and resolve the “inadequate and poor quality” of the country’s road and rail transportation infrastructure.

According to a recent study published by state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS). Authored by PIDS Senior Research Fellow Adoracion Navarro and Research Analyst Jokkaz Latigar, the study analyzed the status of the quantity and quality indicators of the country’s road and rail transport infrastructure and its interlinked stages of planning, programming, budgeting, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

The authors found that many of the targets of the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022, the Public Investment Program, and the expenditure program remain unmet, mostly due to implementation issues. Among these are persistent problems such as acquiring right-of-way or strips of land used as a transportation route, lack of local government capability and funding, natural disasters, project management challenges, and political interference.

“It would be ideal for Congress to pass legislation establishing procedures for right-of-way planning and project prioritization in conjunction with a long-term transportation strategy. Seeking reform champions to reduce Congressional bill introductions and fast-tracking executive approvals are necessary,” the authors said.

Navarro and Latigar also identified new issues that adversely affect the road and rail transport sector, such as the pandemic’s detrimental effect on the materials and labor supply chain and the challenge of managing delays in projects supported by “for later release” funds from the national budget adjustments by Congress.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, the Philippines continues to trail behind most of its Asian neighbors in terms of infrastructure competitiveness. It ranked 96th out of 141 economies.

One of the targets for the road transport sector in the updated PDP was improving the international roughness index (IRI) for national primary roads from 4.62 in 2015 to 3.0 in 2022. By 2019, based on the latest Department of Public Works and Highways survey on IRI, it was apparent that there was no improvement; the national average IRI deteriorated to 4.68.

In terms of rail transport, the Philippine National Railway (PNR) has received criticism for its subpar and unsafe train platforms, delayed trains, and cancelled trips. Citing media articles, the authors added that postponements and cancellations sometimes occur without warning. Signaling issues, the accumulation of trash on the rail tracks, and derailments are some of the causes of delays and cancellations.

“The rail transport sector had also suffered years of neglect. Despite recent attempts to catch up in the expansion and improvements, the task is simply gargantuan that the recent progress cannot be considered significant,” they mentioned.

The authors recommended further capacitating local government units (LGUs) as they perform a bigger role in implementation, given the Supreme Court ruling on the Mandanas-Garcia case. Local chief executives and planners should begin preparing for transit-oriented development by envisioning the long-term requirements and establishing the plan and objective in a planning document.

“Completion and integration of local roads databases must be fast-tracked as accurate information will be important in scheduling national government support and prioritizing areas of support,” the authors said.

They also suggested benchmarking with other countries to reinforce the lessons from the “failures in Metro Manila’s urban rail transport systems” and improving pandemic-responsive procedures.

Editor’s note: This report is based on the PIDS discussion paper titled “Road and Rail Transport Infrastructure in the Philippines: Current State, Issues, and Challenges”.

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