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SLEx operator won’t suspend toll

October 17,2019

Heavy vehicular traffic stretching to 24 kilometers hounded motorists on the night of Sept. 26, 2019, on the South Luzon Expressway, from Alabang to the Eton exit in Santa Rosa City in Laguna province. (Photo by Richard A. Reyes / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — San Miguel Corp. (SMC) president Ramon Ang has assured the public that traffic flow on Southern Luzon Expressway (SLEx) will “return to normal” by Dec. 1, when heavy equipment for the Skyway extension project will have been cleared from a northbound stretch of the road in Alabang, Muntinlupa City.

But Ang rejected calls for SMC Tollways to reduce toll or suspend its collection in the northbound lanes amid the persistent traffic gridlock because of the P10-billion Skyway extension project.

He nevertheless apologized for the inconvenience.

“I am very sorry for the inconvenience being caused by its construction,” Ang told the Inquirer on Wednesday.

“My promise is that, by Dec. 1, we will be able to restore the use of three lanes for the ‘at-grade’ level of SLEx,” he said, referring to the span just  after the Alabang viaduct.

Despite Ang’s opposition, the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB)  would still pursue the possibility of lowering toll rates and imposing penalties on SMC Tollways for the traffic jam, Raymundo Junia, the private sector representative in the TRB, said on Wednesday.

In fact, Junia said the TRB had already summoned officials of the operator of Skyway and SLEx to a meeting on Friday to discuss the problem.

4-km elevated roadway

Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones said on Wednesday that she would let the appropriate House committee handle her proposal to suspend or cut the toll for six months  after Ang rejected the proposal.

She acknowledged Ang’s promise to fix the traffic situation. “We both want to help ease the burden of our motorists and commuters,” she said in a text message.

The country’s largest conglomerate is building a 4-kilometer elevated roadway that will run parallel to both sides of SLEx, allowing motorists to bypass the traffic-prone Alabang viaduct and interchange.

Ang said the five-lane project (consisting of three northbound lanes and two southbound lanes) “will solve traffic in Alabang once and for all.”

Without this new road, planners expect the expressway to become a “parking lot” due to the projected 1 million new vehicles being added to Philippine roads each year, he said.

P7.6B in unadjusted toll

In a radio interview on Tuesday, Ang said SMC Tollways would not reduce or suspend the toll because the government owed his company up to P7.6 billion from unadjusted toll rates as of the end of September.

The TRB last adjusted SLEx toll rates in 2011, according to Ang. It did not approve the 30-percent toll increase supposed to be implemented in 2012, as stated in its contract.

SMC Tollways is the operator of most expressways in the country, including SLEx and Skyway.

An end-to-end 40-km travel from Magallanes in Makati to Calamba in Laguna costs a Class 1 vehicle (car, jeepney, van, or pickup) P214 on SLEx.

Ang said SMC Tollways would not seek the implementation of higher toll rates at the moment, considering the already weekslong heavy traffic along SLEx from Alabang in Muntinlupa up to the nearby cities in Laguna.

TRB mandate

“The TRB is mandated to protect the interests of the people. We will exercise that mandate whatever the others are saying,” Junia told the Inquirer in a mobile phone interview.

“They can say what they want, but we will carry out our mandate to safeguard the consumers’ interests,” he said.

“The regular process of having toll discounts or imposing fines will continue regardless of what SMC (Tollways) is saying. And that process has already started,” Junia added.

The usual snail-paced flow of vehicles along the metro-bound portion of SLEx has become worse after the outermost lane of Skyway at-grade level just after the Alabang viaduct was closed starting on the evening of Sept. 24.

Motorists have complained that an hour to two hours have been added to their usual travel on SLEx, the main artery of Calabarzon provinces to Metro Manila.

Ang questioned the motive of those who were seeking a suspension or discount on SLEx toll.

Nov. 30 reopening

“If I were to suspend it, let’s say tomorrow, will it improve the traffic [on SLEx]? It will not change anything, right?” he said.

Ang said the third lane of SLEx after the Alabang viaduct would be reopened to motorists on Nov. 30.

“Before the holiday season, there will no longer be heavy traffic on SLEx northbound and southbound,” he said.

Ang said the long-term solution for the perennial traffic buildup on SLEx starting in Alabang would be the completion of the Skyway extension project in December 2020.

Once the Skyway extension is completed planners expect motorists’ travel time on SLEx to be halved from an average of 45 minutes to a little over 20 minutes.

“Just a little more patience please and we will soon be able to solve this traffic problem,” he said.

Already, the latest report from company officials observing traffic flow on Wednesday indicated a significant reduction in traffic congestion along the route.

Substantial improvement

Travel time from Soldiers Hills in Barangay Putatan, where the Alabang Skyway project starts, to the end of the construction area was down to only 18 minutes, including the time spent in traffic—a substantial improvement from last week.

San Miguel’s unit in charge of the project, Skyway O&M Corp., said the new elevated toll road would raise the northbound capacity of the Skyway system by 4,500 vehicles and the southbound side by 3,000 vehicles per hour.

The conglomerate is also nearing completion of its Skyway Stage 3 project, which will link the existing 17-km, six-lane elevated toll road between Buendia in Makati and Cupang, Muntinlupa, seamlessly to Balintawak, Quezon City.

The completion would cut travel time from Makati to the north of Metro Manila to 20 minutes.  —

By: Daxim L. Lucas, Dexter Cabalza, Marlon Ramos 

WITH A REPORT FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA

 

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