Biz leaders: Traffic hindrance to Cebu’s economic growth

Carlo Lorenciana

AS CEBU’S economic growth story enters a new decade, the question is where is it headed? What will drive it in 2020? What opportunities and challenges lie beyond the horizon?

For business leaders, the outlook for Cebu’s growth points to strong optimism as economic drivers continue to expand amid the sluggish growth in certain sectors.

However, a big risk is weighing on Cebu’s economic boom: traffic congestion.

Local government units (LGUs) that compose Metro Cebu are painfully aware of the problem and are coming up with ways to address it through projects including the construction of new roads and skyways and the implementation of a new traffic lights system, among others.

Meanwhile, top executives of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) and the Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) said Cebu needs to invest heavily in infrastructure to solve congestion problems within the greater metro area.

MCCI past president Philip Tan said Cebu will continue to move forward, but it stands to “choke itself to death” if it doesn’t address the growing traffic problem, which has been causing losses in productivity and profit.

“The traffic is killing us softly,” Tan cautioned.

MCCI president Stanley Go echoed Tan’s view, saying infrastructure is what Cebu really lacks.

In the last 10 years, Cebu has seen unprecedented economic growth, attracting key industry drivers to invest in tourism, outsourcing and real estate.

This massive growth has been complemented by a significant rise in population and urbanization, adding to traffic buildup in the metro.

But despite this boom, Cebu’s infrastructure hasn’t caught up. To this day, there’s still no mass transport system running through a highly urbanized hub like Cebu.

The business sector, for one, has warned that Cebu may continue to suffer from traffic if the much-needed, long-overdue infrastructure projects like mass transit aren’t implemented very soon.

Across the Mactan Channel in Lapu-Lapu City, Mayor Junard Chan plans to build new roads to complement existing ones.

That means opening a road that will serve as an alternative route that will include Pakpakan Road in Barangay Basak that will traverse Collinwood Subdivision in the barangay.

A road will also be opened in Barangay Suba-basbas that will stretch to neighboring Barangay Marigondon, while another road will connect Sitio Sudtunggan in Barangay Basak to Sitio Timpolok in Barangay Babag.

Chan said the City will also reclaim the shores of Barangays Punta Engaño, Mactan and Calawisan. Once this is completed, the mayor said they will build a coastal highway. The reclaimed land will also be home to a park and a new City Hall building.

The mayor also plans to build a skyway, or an elevated highway, that will start at the foot of the third bridge in Cordova town and stretch all the way to Barangay Basak heading towards the airport.

His counterpart in Mandaue City, Jonas Cortes, wants to ban tricycles from the main thoroughfares but not without providing them with an alternative livelihood first.

“Definitely, the tricycles need to go. But we need to do something about the drivers who will lose their jobs. Maybe we can hire them to operate the e-jeepney or whatever it is that will replace the tricycles,” Cortes said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

Not only are tricycles slower, but they also carry fewer passengers, he said. These need to be replaced by vehicles with a bigger seating capacity, such as e-jeepneys, also known as beeps.

“One of our aims and ambitions that we can discuss with the neighboring LGUs like Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu City and as far as Talisay City is to come up with a common stand regarding mass transportation,” Cortes said.

He also plans to put up updated street signs around the city.

“I already informed the city planning to put up signs with names of the streets. One of the causes of traffic is motorists getting lost or confused because they don’t know what street they’re on,” he said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

To help improve the traffic situation in Cebu City, the City has set aside P500 million to acquire an artificial intelligence traffic lights system to replace the 30-year-old Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System, which the City Transportation Office (CTO) is currently using. The City has yet to bid out the contract, though.

Cebu City Administrator Floro Casas Jr. said the public bidding may be held in February.

Once the new traffic lights system is in place, he said vehicle mobility should improve by 30 percent. Implementing it may take some time, though, since the new system will use fiber optic, or underground cabling, he said.

The terms of reference are under review by the engineering division of the CTO.

Once completed, Casas said they will post these to inform interested bidders.

The city administrator announced that Mayor Edgardo Labella will open a new road to accommodate more vehicles and to serve as a diversionary road in Barangay Capitol Site and another road in the south district, but he did not say where.

Casas also revealed that construction of the P16 billion Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project will start in the first quarter of the year.

The BRT project is 39.88 kilometers long, including the length of the feeder lines which extend to Talisay City.

It is one of the components of the proposed Integrated Intermodal Transport System for Metro Cebu which will have a monorail system as its backbone. The BRT buses will serve as feeder to the monorail transport system. The integrated system is seen as a solution to the growing transport shortage in Metro Cebu.

Looking into 2020, CCCI president Virgilio Espeleta is optimistic about the continued growth of businesses.

He was banking on the renewed relationship between local governments and the business community, which should further support growth of the industry.

“We see a lot of optimism in terms of government supportive of business,” the business leader said.

Efren Carreon, director of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Central Visayas, said economic indicators point to a sustained growth in Cebu, the region’s economic center, this year and next.

This positive outlook comes despite the lagging growth in the export and agriculture sectors, areas that he stressed need much attention.

If the global trade outlook improves, it should help the export sector recover in the near term, he said.

Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. Cebu executive director Fred Escalona is also optimistic despite the uncertainties.

“Although most experts predict a flat global growth in 2020, I still remain optimistic that we could achieve a slight growth next year,” he noted.

That could only be possible, Escalona said, if Cebu enters new markets that could boost growth such as India, Eastern Europe, South America and Africa.

Carreon said the cooling inflation, higher job rate and the robust aviation growth are among the positive trends in 2019, which should continue in 2020 unless unexpected headwinds occur.

For 2020, the real esate industry is expected to continue to expand, as it attracts more investments in residential, office and retail.

Property analysts attributed the unprecedented growth in the industry to Cebu’s economic growth.

Next year, Cebu’s skyline will continue to transform as more real restate projects take shape, including condominiums, office towers, retail centers, townships and mixed-use developments rising in the metro.

Joey Bondoc, senior research manager at Colliers International, said Cebu will still be one of the robust property markets in the country, being a favored investment destination outside the capital.

Kling Lacson, Cebu director for occupier services and commercial agency at Santos Knight Frank, also saw continued growth in the property industry, particularly in office space demand, as new outsourcing firms come while existing ones expand. (FVQ, KFD, PAC)