Tunnel digging for Metro Manila subway to start November

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A design study of the Metro Manila subway project

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 5) — Contractors will start digging for the Metro Manila Subway before the year ends, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said.

Transportation Undersecretary Timothy John Batan told lawmakers during the agency's budget hearing that digging for subway stations is set to start by November or December this year, following an eight-month design study for the project.

"The detailed engineering design of our contractor has been ongoing from February to October. Patapos na po sila. By November-December this year, mobilize ng equipment, hukay na po tayo sa subway project natin [we'll start digging for the subway project]," Batan told members of the House appropriations committtee on Thursday.

The subway project stretches 36 kilometers long and covers seven cities and 15 stations. It will start in Quirino Highway in Quezon City all the way to Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City. It is funded through the Japan International Cooperation Agency worth ₱357 billion.

Batan said they are looking to start partial operations of the new railway as early as end-2021, initially by ferrying passengers across three stations: Tandang Sora, Mindanao Avenue, and North Avenue, all located in Quezon City.

Tunnel boring machines have arrived in the country and will be assembled for the digging phase.

Once fully operational by 2025, the project is expected to cut travel time end-to-end to 30 minutes from the current two to three hours. It is expected to serve 300,000 passengers daily.

Emergency powers

Meanwhile, DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade made a fresh pitch for Congress to grant emergency powers to solve the ever-worsening traffic congestion in the capital.

Back in 2016, Tugade requested for special powers that would delegate him as traffic chief over the next three years. He will oversee and control all efforts to manage traffic and transportation specifically in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Davao City, including the creation of a unified traffic system for each metropolitan area.

The measure cleared the House but failed to do so in the Senate. However, Tugade is not giving up.

"Kung walang emergency powers, kung susundin yung proseso sa procurement at bidding, mabagal ho [If we don't have emergency powers and we follow the process of procurement and bidding, it will be slow]," Tugade told members of the committee.

"Because of the uniqueness of situation, we need a unique solution... Kailangan natin 'yan for the enjoyment for the materiality of time. We believe in our project and we need the time to be able to put this in motion," he added.

But Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman rejected Tugade's proposal, saying that existing laws already allow leeway to cut short bureaucratic processes as needed.

The DOTr asked for a ₱147-billion budget for 2020, double its current funding. The agency said ₱108 billion is earmarked for infrastructure, with bulk of the funds meant for railway projects.

The DOTr expects to open the Mindanao Railway by 2021, and the new segment of the Philippine National Railways linking Clark, Pampanga to Calamba, Laguna by 2022.