Expanded private sector role eyed in DPWH projects

THE DEPARTMENT of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said it plans to seek more private sector bids for operations and maintenance (O&M) contracts, including those financed by official development assistance (ODA).

“We are promoting projects under ODA, especially expressways, for PPP (public–private partnership) O&M,” DPWH Senior Undersecretary Emil K. Sadain told BusinessWorld recently when asked about projects being offered to the private sector.

He said that such projects include the China ODA-funded, P23.04-billion Samal Island-Davao City Connector Bridge, a four-lane bridge that is expected to reduce the travel time of around 25,000 motorists daily between Davao City and the Island Garden City of Samal.

Also up for PPP O&M is the Panay-Guimaras-Negros Island Bridges Project. Early this year, the government obtained $56.6 million in loans from the South Korean government for engineering services required by the project.

According to the DPWH, the 32.47-kilometer (km) project is composed of two sea-crossing bridges connecting Panay Island, Guimaras Island and Negros Island in the Western Visayas. The department hopes to start the detailed engineering design by the first quarter of 2023.

“Even the Bataan – Cavite Interlink Bridge, once completed, is going to be PPP O&M,” Mr. Sadain said.

The DPWH signed in 2020 a $59-million contract for the engineering design of the Bataan–Cavite Interlink Bridge Project at the mouth of Manila Bay, which is being developed with funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The P175.7-billion ($3.6 billion) project covers the construction of two long-span bridges totaling 32.1 kms. It is expected to cut travel time between the two provinces from five hours to 20 to 30 minutes.

“We have also the O&M of the Davao City Bypass Road,” Mr. Sadain noted. The Japan-funded 45-km road project is expected to mitigate congestion in Davao City, with the travel time between Sirawan village in Toril District, Davao City, and J.P. Laurel village in Panabo City, currently one hour and 44 minutes via the Pan-Philippine Highway Diversion Road, seen reduced to 49 minutes via the Davao City Bypass.

The P46.8-billion project is expected to be completed by 2027, according to the department.

At the same time, Mr. Sadain said that the DPWH also plans to privatize the O&M portion of the Japan-supported Central Luzon Expressway (CLLEX).

“CLLEX will be completed next year,” he said, referring to the additional seven-km segment of the project from the Guimba-Aliaga Road intersection to the San Juan interchange in Nueva Ecija.

The project connects to an 18-km section, opened to motorists in July last year, which starts at the connection of the SCTEX/TPLEX (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway/Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway) toll roads in Tarlac City. The CLLEX is a 30-km public infrastructure project that serves as an east-west link for the expressway network of Central Luzon, which is immediately north of the capital.

The P12.61-billion CLLEX is part of the 10 priority PPP projects of the current administration.

Public Works Secretary Manuel M. Bonoan has said that the Marcos administration will work to attract more investors to its infrastructure program through PPPs.

Former President Rodrigo R. Duterte minimized the use of PPPs — the preferred mode of the Aquino administration — due to allegedly disadvantageous provisions such as state subsidies and sovereign guarantees.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) recently reported that infrastructure spending increased to P99.1 billion in September from P71.2 billion a year ago owing to the completion of more projects.

The DBM noted that the growth was largely due to the sizable disbursements of the DPWH for completed and partially completed road infrastructure projects.

In the nine months to September, infrastructure spending was up 13.4% to P727.7 billion from P641.5 billion a year earlier but 4.11% lower than the P758.9-billion program for the period. Infrastructure budget for the whole year is P1.2 trillion.