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Is there a need for a transport infra master plan?

August 2011
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The NCTS crafted an issue paper for Bantay Lansangan entitled “Is there a need for a transport master plan?” partly as an exploratory initiative to widen the perspective of the organization from its current focus on roads.

Master plans are supposed to be guides for both government and other interested parties such as the private sector for determining what projects are to be prioritized. They also should be able to provide the basic cost estimates and other requirements that should pave the way for more detailed planning and design for specific or particular projects. As such, the absence of master plans or perhaps outdated ones is considered as handicaps in the prioritization and implementation of projects.

However, despite the availability of master plans, there is the question of the acceptance of their recommendations. There are also questions pertaining to how comprehensive these plans are and how would be able to address social, economic, environmental and even political issues should certain projects be implemented and the plan realized. On the last concern on the political aspect there are also those projects that are altered, apparently according to the whims of national or local leaders. Such deviations can be unnecessary and may lead to increased costs for project implementation. As it there have been many master planning studies conducted for the Philippines, the main issue tackled by the paper is the lack of an integrative document, a master plan for all master plans so to speak, that will clearly show how each and every major project is linked with the others.

The paper aimed to:

  • Situate what has been initiated in the past vis-à-vis infrastructure master plan;
  • Discuss the present framework (if any) that guides government’s long-term investments, policies and projects in infrastructure;
  • Highlight the key concepts and processes involved in the formulation of an infrastructure master plan;
  • Identify gray and problematic areas; and
  • Identify recommendations and ways forward.

I reproduce below the concluding section of the paper:

“Master planning studies are generally directed to the government and provide frameworks for where investments should go. These include recommendations concerning prioritization that is reflected in the implementation periods or targets mentioned in the plan. Projects where the private sector may invest in should seldom deviate from those included and proposed in a master plan. This ideal situation would presume that unsolicited proposals are generally classified among non-priorities. Otherwise, it would seem that the master plan is flawed and failed to identify projects that are attractive for investments. More often than not, private sector entities will also have their own views on which projects will be most profitable and therefore most attractive for them to venture into. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that plans are implemented according to their importance or urgency.

There is a need for long-term infrastructure master plans. However, these should be updated on a regular basis and not premised on the availability of foreign funding support as the long-term eventually becomes part of the medium-term and ultimately the short-term. Infrastructure master plans should also be flexible as it serves as a guide not only for potential loan packages but the participation of the private sector in putting up the infrastructure essential for the sustainable progress of the country. Lastly, it is important that coordination be clear in the master plans should these be formulated according to the different transport sub-sectors. Elements must be integrated to ensure that the different transport infrastructure projects complement each other rather than appear as isolated or disconnected.”

The paper was presented last August 1, 2011 at the DPWH-BL Fair held at the DPWH headquarters at the Port Area in Manila. It was generally enthusiastically received based on the feedback I got from our technical staff who presented the paper before a predominantly DPWH audience. I will address questions and comments forwarded to me in the next posting.

 


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