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It’s Time to Plan and Develop Mega Manila

Metro Manila, or the National Capital Region (NCR), is bursting at the seams, and some studies rank it as one of the most congested urban centers in the world.


While the government and the private sector are busy undertaking major infrastructure projects in the metropolis, they will not be enough to resolve the traffic congestion in the 619-square-kilometer (sq km)urban sprawl, whose daytime population swells to over 21 million.


Various suggestions on how to resolve the Edsa traffic mess have been floated recently, including the construction of more expressways,  such as the one above Edsa, adding another lane by narrowing the existing lanes or the conversion of Edsa into a one-way road.


The problem with these NCR-centric proposals is that we tend to focus on investing more in Metro Manila, when the more effective solution lies outside the metropolis. We keep on satisfying the demand of Metro Manila only to attract more people from other areas of the country, thereby contributing to further congestion.


Officially, NCR had 12.877 million residents, representing 12.7 percent of the national population of 101 million as of August 2015. Because of the limited land area, NCR’s population density reached 20,785 persons per sq km in that year, much higher than the national average of 337 persons per square kilometer. Manila, the capital city, had a population density of 71,263 persons per sq km, reportedly the highest in the world.


Data from the Land Transportation Office show that of the 11.6 million motor vehicles registered in 2018, about 2.8 million or 24 percent were in the NCR. Based on a standard length of 6 meters and width of 2 meters for a parking space, these vehicles would require up to 34 million square meters of space.


Imagine if they were all on the road during rush hour. These exclude millions of motorcycles, tricycles and pedicabs plying the different streets in Metro Manila, not to mention the millions of vehicles visiting from other parts of Luzon.


If transformed into a parking lot, the 23.8-km, 10-lane Edsa could only accommodate 200,000 vehicles on both sides. No wonder, the average traffic speed on Edsa is only about 15 kilometers per hour, even slower than the running speed of a marathon athlete.


I believe that a longer-term solution is necessary to address the problem. If the traffic becomes too unbearable in the NCR, the obvious correcting mechanism is to move away from the city center. This means we should spread the development and economic activities in NCR to the provinces as far as Pampanga and Tarlac in the north, and Batangas and Laguna in the south.


Let us develop Mega Manila as the new megapolis that encompasses NCR, Central Luzon and Calabarzon. The development of New Clark City in Tarlac province is a start, and we should follow it up with more projects that will seamlessly link NCR to the growth corridors of Subic, Clark and Calabarzon.


The airport and seaport projects in Central Luzon and Calabarzon should be expanded to ease the pressure on the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the Port of Manila.  In other words, future projects should focus on the development of Mega Manila, not on the limited territory of NCR.  It is time to build new commercial business districts (CBD) beyond Makati, Ortigas and Fort Bonifacio, and put them in Pampanga, Tarlac, Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite or Batangas, supported by modern infrastructure projects, of course.


We can also build communities around the emerging CBDs so that employees will not have to travel for hours just to get to their places of work. A daily four-hour commute is not healthy to the body and affects workers’ productivity.


It is a good thing that the Duterte administration is undertaking “Build, Build, Build” projects that will spread development to the provinces. Once completed, these rail and road projects would cut travel time between NCR and the rest of Luzon.


The private sector should contribute to this goal by putting up their headquarters in the new business districts outside the NCR. Many multinational companies currently congregate in Makati and Fort Bonifacio to the disadvantage of their employees, who cannot afford the high rental rates in these areas.


By opening more areas for development, we can unlock the full potential of Mega Manila as the major growth driver and resolve the urban congestion in NCR at the same time.