WHILE it has yet to tap a contractor for the construction of an 8-kilometer road that will link the North Luzon (Nlex) and South Luzon Expressways (Slex), Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. plans to start building the facility ahead of schedule.

Rodrigo E. Franco, the company president, said his group intends to aggressively push the construction of the Nlex Connector Road to January instead of May, as the road is seen as a crucial infrastructure that could help solve the traffic mess in Metro Manila.

“We are still looking at a construction start ahead of contract schedule,” he said in a text message.  The company initially wanted to start the construction of the link road sometime last month due to the pressure from the public works department’s creation of a right-of-way task force. However, it has yet to award a contractor for the project.

It could be noted, though, the company’s concession agreement with the government provides for a May 2019 start of construction for the project’s first section, which runs from C-3 Road to España.  “I want to clarify that the Nlex Connector is not delayed. We just moved the start date,” Franco said.

Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Officer in Charge for Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Alex G. Bote said the target groundbreaking for the Nlex Connector’s civil works is set for September.

“We need a contractor to be on board. They are still in talks with possible contractors,” he said.

Public Works Secretary Mark A. Villar noted the government is also doing its best to deliver the easement for the road on time.

“We are delivering parts of right-of-way this year,” he said.

Bote added the government and the private company will be “concurrently doing right-of-way acquisition and delivery and construction” to ensure the timely delivery of the much-needed infrastructure.

Nlex is envisioned to be an 8-kilometer, four-lane elevated toll road that will connect the Nlex and Slex.

It will extend the southward portion of Nlex from the end of Segment 10 in C-3 Road Caloocan City to PUP Santa Mesa, Manila, and connecting to the Skyway Stage 3, and mostly traversing the Philippine National Railway rail track.

The project is expected to provide seamless expressway connection between key growth areas like Metro Manila and North and Central Luzon, and the Clark-Subic corridor.   Around 35,000 motorists per day, especially cargo trucks, are expected to benefit from the project.

The facility is expected to be completed by December 2020, ahead of its May 2021 schedule, based on an indicative timeline.

The project, which has a price tag of P23.3 billion, includes two interchanges located at C-3 Road, Caloocan and España, Manila.

Franco earlier said his group is keen on tapping the bond market to partially fund the construction of the link road.

Nlex Connector will be operated by Nlex Corp., a unit of Metro Pacific Investments Corp., the largest tollways operator in the Philippines.