Briones: The neverending story that is the CBRT project

Briones: The neverending story that is the CBRT project
SunStar Briones

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) should have a regional office here in Cebu. If not in Cebu, at least somewhere here in Central Visayas.

That way, when issues arise regarding projects that are implemented by the agency, it can easily answer questions and not leave the host local government unit fumbling in the dark.

Take for instance, the link-to-port project that is said to be part of the first package of the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (CBRT).

To those who have been following the drama that is the CBRT – because it is a drama with all its twists and turns – its groundbreaking was led by no less than President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. at Fuente Osmeña in Cebu City on Feb. 27, 2023.

Back then, everyone was just excited that the project would finally get off the ground after languishing in the drawing board for many, many years.

Project manager Norvin Imbong could even afford to be optimistic, announcing that the first phase would be completed by the last quarter of 2023… barring any unexplained delays.

There was no reason to doubt him. After all, the project is only 2.38-kilometer long, from the Cebu South Bus Terminal along N. Bacalso St. to the front of the Capitol building along Osmeña Blvd.

What could go wrong?

Well, we are in the Philippines where Murphy’s Law reigns supreme. “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

We’re halfway into 2024 and the first phase is far from over. And, unfortunately, I don’t think many are surprised by the development or lack thereof.

I remember there was that brouhaha over ownership of the two skywalks that were smack right on the CBRT route.

For months they argued before reaching a settlement. Only then were the two structures finally removed.

Then construction of the bus stop in front of the Capitol building was stopped because its design might violate heritage laws.

Until now the project proponent is waiting for the go-ahead from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to resume work.

Earlier this week, though, workers were seen removing materials in the area hours after Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia ordered the clearing of the remaining construction materials and unfinished steel structures along Osmeña Blvd. near the Capitol building.

What does this mean?

It would have been nice for project manager Imbong to issue a statement so stakeholders would know what was going on. But that would be asking too much.

Then out of nowhere, the link-to-port project was dropped like a bombshell, leaving many members of the public scratching their heads.

It’s safe to say that this came out as a surprise because during the last year’s groundbreaking, there was no mention of this at all. Not even in the succeeding months. It was only earlier this year, amid the explained delays, that the public was introduced to the idea of the link-to-port project.

Cebu City Councilor Jocelyn Pesquera vented her frustration and dismay when she appeared live on Beyond the Headlines, SunStar Cebu’s online news and commentary program, last Monday, July 1, 2024.

Apparently, she found out that the link-to-port component is being funded by excess money from the implementation of the first package, which, by the way, is worth P1.048 billion. Granted, the winning contractor placed a bid of P900 million. Maybe that’s where all the extra cash came from.

Again, I am guessing because the project proponent has remained mum.

Oh wait! I stand corrected. The very next day after Pesquera’s “exposé,” Project Manager Imbong said the link-to-port is part of the first package and that it is not being funded by excess budget.

Hmm. I guess we’re supposed to fall for it hook, line and sinker.

It’s a good thing urban planner Nigel Paul Villarete, a former Cebu City administrator, was there to take us out of the dark with his explanation that the link-to-port feature was an addition and hence not part of the original plan as Imbong insisted.

Either way, the DOTr should be more transparent when implementing billion-peso projects that affect thousands of people.

In the meantime, we can only hope and pray that the completion of the first package will see the light of day.

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