SAN JOSE CITY, Nueva Ecija—Cousins Priscilla Ida and Karenina Anne used to have more than 15 hours bus travel along the Maharlika Highway from Manila to their hometown of Gonzaga in the far northeast of Cagayan Valley.
But thanks to the new 66.4-km Central Luzon Expressway, which connects it to the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Exchange and the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Exchange, travel in these areas has heftily cut travel time.
They will no longer have to take the road that snakes through Plaridel in Bulacan and Gapan in Nueva Ecija, but will instead go through the Central Luzon Expressway and pass through the towns of Victoria, Guimba and Cabanatuan after the Tarlac City junction on the present Subic-Clark-Tarlac Exchange north end.
Specifically, travel hours have also been shortened from Olongapo, Bataan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan, the Ilocos provinces, Baguio and the Cordillera region and Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija to the Cagayan Valley all the way to the coastal towns facing the Babuyan Channel.
Wilma and her cousins Ceferina and Loida have also experienced faster travel time from Metro Manila to their hometown in Paoay, 470 kms north of the capital.
This is the same experience for Cresta and her brother, who went home to this Science City, the seat of the Carabao Center and the Central Luzon State University in the heart of Central Luzon’s rice granary Nueva Ecija.
Public Works and Highways officials have said a loan agreement for the 30.7-km Tarlac-Cabanatuan section southwest of here had been signed by Manila and Tokyo.
Officials said the construction of the four-lane project would be financed through the Official Development Assistance while the operation and maintenance would be under Public-Private-Partnership.
As public works activities buzz round the clock, residents said businesses are getting their proverbial slice of the pie by slowly expanding to the Central Luzon region because of new infrastructure projects.
These projects are slowly transforming the rice-rich region into what can be the country’s next major investment destination, according to sources close to the projects.
Official sources said procurement for consultancy services for detailed engineering designs on these projects are in high gear.Phase 1 of the Central Luzon Link Expresway was estimated to cost around P15.344 billion.
This is interconnected with the Luisita interchange of Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, running all the way to the northern countryside as well as Baguio, the country’s summer capital, Nueva Ecija and Cagayan Valley in the northeast.
Exact figures on motorists and commuters who are driving through the Expressway between the North Luzon Expressway, which cuts through Bulacan and Pampanga, and the vast fields of Nueva Ecija are not known.
But property and business analysts are agreed construction of these expressways are certain to contribute to the development of the regional growth centers in Central and Northern Luzon, decreasing in the process over-concentration in Metro Manila for socio-economic activities.
Glistening in the summer sun are the two major arteries, according to officials, identifying these as the 89-km Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway and the 66.4-km Central Luzon Link Expressway Phase I and II, which cost P12.469 billion and P14.2 billion respectively.
These are under the Public-Private-Partnership scheme, according to officials of the Dept. of Public Works and Highways.
The same officials said TPLEX, expected to benefit 13,000 travellers each day, has started providing unhampered and direct access from Tarlac interconnecting SCTEX up to barangay Carmen in Rosales town in Pangasinan Section 1 which, officials said, has reduced the travel time from two hours to 30 minutes.
Section 1, which runs 48.6 kns, has been completed. Construction of the other two sections — Carmen-Urdaneta, Pangasinan section, and Pangasinan-Rosario, La Union section – is still going on.
TPLEX is done by an all-Filipino consortium composed of R.D. Policarpio and Co. Inc., C.M. Pancho Construction Inc., New Kanlaon Construction Inc., D.M. Wenceslao and Associates Inc., J.E. Manalo and Co. Inc., and D.M. Consunji Inc.
By July 2014, the expressway has provided easy access to Cordillera and Central Luzon regions since it has linked it to the North Luzon and Subic-Clark-Tarlac expressways.
DPWH officials said Phase 1 of the Central Luzon Link Expressway runs from Tarlac to Cabanatuan, the latter 43 kms from here, and Phase II, from Cabanatuan to San Jose.
In the meanwhile, Priscilla Ida, Karenina Anne, Cresta and her brother share the line of tourism officials the construction of the expressways and the slowly moving dispersal of industries to the Central Luzon area are a big boost to tourism in the country’s flatlands.