PAREX: Rivers of doubt and reason

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

Listening to both sides of the debate for and against the plan to construct a 19.37-kilometer six-lane all-elevated expressway skirting the banks of Pasig River raises rivers of doubt and reasoning, which in the end simply means that more discussions are needed to resolve the issue.

The P95-billion public-private partnership road project with conglomerate San Miguel Corp., now known as PAREX, had broken ground last month, but almost immediately unleashed a missive of protests from environmentalists and culture preservation activists, and recently, even from some lawmakers.

Without the avalanche of dissent, the promise of travel from Radial Road 10 in Manila all the way to Taytay, Rizal in 15 to 20 minutes or vice-versa, is something for traffic jam-averse people to look forward to. Hearing the passionate calls for the project to be stopped, however, deserves some listening to.

A number of jarring claims and accusations by protesters, though, has somehow tarnished their respectability, the first among them is that the Pasig River will be completely covered by the proposed expressway. This is too blatant an exaggeration to be glossed over, and unimaginably far from the truth, but many people can be won over by this false claim.

PAREX, even without the detailed engineering design for now, is going to be elevated all the way – except for the connecting ramps, of course, that will connect the expressway from on-grade roads.

Less right of way issues

The project’s allure for its proponents is the minimal expense and bother that has been factored in dealing with right of way issues, a concern that has greatly delayed the completion of many of the country’s major infrastructure projects.

By sinking in most of the expressway columns on the edge of the Pasig River banks, SMC has avoided dealing with the cumbersome problems that come with excavations on existing roads where traffic will expectedly become heavier until work is done.

SMC had gotten a whiff of how easier it is to pile-drive columns on river beds during the Skyway 3 project, when a part of the elevated expressway had to cut through Pasig River. The PAREX project, if things go well, can be completed in less than 24 months, according to SMC.

Easing traffic

A new major road, even if one will have to shell out a few hundred pesos, will certainly be most welcome when traffic in the metro returns to chaotic levels as this pandemic winds down and the economy hums back to high drive.

Have we forgotten just how much precious time and money we lose every day in traffic before this pandemic forced us to work from our homes and keep travel to a minimum? Even today, while Metro Manila is on Alert level 4, travel takes 53 percent longer than it should be.

PAREX, if all the legitimate concerns raised against it is resolved, would help bring down the traffic congestion levels in the metro, which had been estimated to cost the country P3.5 billion a day by a study made by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and which could rise to P4.5 billion a day by 2035 if nothing significant is done.

Findings by the Asian Development Bank and the TomTom Traffic Index in 2019 also showed that Metro Manila is the worst congested city among 278 Asian cities, with a population of more than five million, where demand for travel surpasses the current transport network.

Various studies have shown that Metro Manila needs to focus on the efficiency and affordability of its network of public transportation, on which more than 80 percent of the population rely on.

PPP value

Our government is trying its best to respond to the traffic problem with limited resources, which is why the public-private partnerships (PPPs) continue to be important at this time. In fact, PPPs have been able to save the current administration’s flagship Build Build Build program, which has gotten to a rather slow start, resulting in a less than glowing accomplishment report.

In reality, a large chunk of private sector money has been expended on traffic-related infrastructure projects for Metro Manila to date, although we will be seeing public sector funding to rise in the next years as some of the public commuter train projects are completed.

Definitely, stakeholders’ assent to projects endorsed by the government under the PPP scheme need to be gained, and the PAREX project cannot be an exception.

SMC is betting P95 billion on this project, and for sure is not naïve to the challenges that such undertakings ultimately risk. The company should be able to provide better answers to doubts and questions raised.

Not all bad

Contrary to accusations, elevated expressways – even if they are built along the banks of rivers – are not all bad. To nitpick and say that some of these on-the-river roads in other countries have been demolished without providing the right perspective is downright misleading.

Similarly, the commitment that SMC has given to continuously dredge and clean the river is laudable. The construction along the bank will also force the resettlement of squatters and other entities staying in the area that dispose of their garbage into the river.

Environmentalists and culture activists should try to seek other solid endeavors other than protesting what could provide benefits to greater number of population.

There’s still enough time to sit down and talk over this matter before SMC actually mobilizes civil works. Let us keep our minds open because some things are not all bad, and many issues have acceptable solutions.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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