Golden age of infrastructure

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

Last Friday, another life-changing mega project was unveiled, with the groundbreaking of the P95-billion Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) project of San Miguel Corp., another testament to the fact that, indeed, the country is in the golden age of infrastructure.

The 19.37-kilometer, six-lane elevated expressway, will run along the banks of the Pasig River from Radial Road 10 in Manila to C-6 Road or the South East Metro Manila Expressway in Taguig. Once operational, PAREX will link the eastern and western cities of Metro Manila and will connect to the Skyway system, according to news reports, which means that the integrated road network will link the north, south, east, and west corridors of the capital.

According to SMC president Ramon Ang, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the company to provide an inclusive, future-ready solution to traffic, and at the same time, restore the Pasig River back to its old glory.

Ang said the project is bound to be one of the most impactful projects during the time of President Duterte in terms of integrating the social, economic, and environmental needs of the people, as he thanked the government and the Build Build Build team for allowing SMC to deliver another game-changing infrastructure to help ease traffic, boost the economy, and improve the lives of Filipinos.

Even Transportation Secretary Art Tugade was gushing over the project, saying the country will finally have a project that will connect north to south, and east to west, a connectivity that has never been thought of, even by the country’s urban planners.

The project promises to be a green, hybrid expressway. It will feature a bus rapid transit system that will benefit commuters all over Metro Manila, dedicated bike lanes, as well as pedestrian walkways.

SMC has also taken upon itself to clean up and rehabilitate the Pasig River, at no expense to the government, via a P2-billion initiative that aims to extract around three million metric tons of silt and solid waste from the river in order to improve its flow and carrying capacity, as well as mitigate flooding. After the rehabilitation, it is expected that the river can finally be safely used as an alternative mode of transportation using ferries.

DPWH Undersecretary Maria Catalina Cabral noted that PAREX would be a monumental and significant project that would serve as the primary east-west connection, while completing the network of expressways proposed within Metro Manila, thus providing a solution to the growing traffic problem in the metropolis.

Once completed, PAREX is expected to cut travel time between Manila and Pasig down to 15 to 20 minutes.

For his part, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea noted that while the project was just a dream before, it is now becoming a reality – a gateway for the future of urban transport that will address the needs of urban living in today’s environment.

Meanwhile, in addressing concerns raised by some regarding the project’s possible impact on the environment, including ruining the view of the Pasig River, Ang explained that being a private investment by SMC, the company would not spend its own money to build something that would not be beneficial to the public, the environment, and the country for the sake of profits.

A lot of money, he stressed, and other resources are being invested for the projects, even if the returns would take a while because the country needs them.

As to claims that the project would cover Pasig River, SMC’s chief executive assured the public that the structure would not do so since it would be built on the side of the river, along the easement. He said that the posts for the project would only take up one meter of space, while the average width of the river is 200 meters.

In short the project will be situated just on one side, and along the river banks to be more specific. One of the project’s staunchest critics previously wrote about this dream of a covered walkway along the banks of the river. This is it. And imagine that many things can be done with all that usable public space that will be created.

At this critical time of our lives, when the government is struggling to source funds for pandemic-related initiatives and to bring back economic activity, private sector initiatives such as this, that are undertaken at no cost to government and to us especially, should be welcomed with open arms.

Someone had written that the whole stretch beneath PAREX could become valuable real estate for adaptive reuse and urban renewal. It has been said that SMC has positioned the project as a green and sustainable infrastructure and is tapping the country’s top urban planner and green architect, Jun Palafox, to design it.

PAREX will not just be for private vehicles or exclusive to motor vehicles. Being a hybrid expressway, it will also accommodate what could be the country’s first bus rapid transit system, which will operate much like a modern train system with a set schedule and terminals. However, instead of trains on tracks, it will use high-capacity buses. This will democratize the use of expressways and will answer the clamor of critics to prioritize mobility of the commuting public.

Another concern being raised is the possibility that another expressway will induce more people to buy cars and result to more pollution. But I have said time and again that people do not buy cars just because there are new roads. If we have an efficient mass transport system, do you think that people will still prefer driving their own vehicles and spending for fuel and other costs for vehicle maintenance, not to mention battling with the problem of inadequate parking space?

As to criticisms that the project will block the flow of the Pasig River and cause even more pollution and flooding, on the contrary, SMC is spending billions just to clean up the river, improve its flow, and increase its floodwater-carrying capacity.

We have already seen and experienced how SMC’s Skyway Stage 3 project has eased traffic along EDSA and how it has significantly reduced travel time from north to south, and vice versa. The benefits of a well-planned and designed infrastructure project are too obvious for critics not to notice them.



For comments, email at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

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