PAREX and sustainable green infrastructure

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

One thing that most Filipinos have historically been wary of is change. This is evident in the way they continue to do the same things repeatedly because they don’t want to change the status quo or worse because they are fearful of what might happen if they try something new. While this is understandable to an extent, if we continue to do the same things over and over, are we surprised that we do not get new results? Sometimes, we have to be able to think outside the box to find solutions.

In the city, one of the biggest hurdles we face is bad traffic and limited infrastructure to address it. While it sounds like a simple problem, traffic is one of the issues that bleed into every aspect of our lives. Filipinos know that it will take them roughly one to two hours to get to any destination, and have given up huge chunks of their lives sitting in their cars waiting to get to work or to go home.

In addition, cars at a standstill for several hours at a time contribute to our massive pollution problem, gas consumption, and an overall loss in productivity and income. Mass transportation isn’t doing enough to alleviate this problem. Our buses and trains aren’t enough to make a dent in private commuters, and with the pandemic making mass transit even more challenging, we’re looking at traffic going right back to pre-pandemic levels.

At this point, long-term and lasting solutions are what’s necessary to make real change. This is what San Miguel Corp. (SMC), headed by Ramon S. Ang, is presenting when they recently broke ground on the new Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) project – the country’s first green, hybrid expressway. The 19.37-kilometer project that the company is undertaking with the government, seeks to link the western and eastern cities of Metro Manila.

The project, a P95-billion investment by SMC, will be a six-lane elevated expressway that 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 (SEMME) in Taguig. Once completed, it will also link to the Skyway system, making the dream of an integrated elevated road network linking the north, south, east, and west corridors of the capital a reality.

Careful consideration was taken in planning the project and no cultural or heritage sites will be negatively impacted in the construction. The expressway is set to be built on the side of the river, along the easement of the Pasig River, and will not cover the river as some may have heard. The posts of the road will only take up roughly one meter of space, while the average width of the Pasig River is 200 meters.

Concerns that the expressway will worsen pollution by inducing people to buy more cars is unfounded. Buying cars or having too many cars in the country has been a problem that has existed for years without having been tied to any highways or infrastructure development. A lot of Filipinos have cars because of a lack of transportation options like reliable bus and train systems. If we give them better alternatives and routes, it isn’t going to make cars multiply – if anything it will help lessen cars in standstill traffic for hours on end making trips faster and more economical while reducing air pollution caused by unending traffic jams.

The PAREX is a milestone project and one that will have a positive impact on the country in terms of integrating the social, economic, and environmental needs of Filipinos in the capital. It will help Metro Manila by implementing future-proof solutions to traffic, and providing ways to decongest the streets while giving Filipino commuters more choices. Plus, the project also starts off a series of simultaneous environmental projects too.

SMC is also undertaking a P2-billion initiative to clean up and rehabilitate the Pasig River. The goal is to extract roughly three million metric tons of silt and solid waste from the river, and would improve the flow and carrying capacity of the river, while at the same time mitigating flooding. Part of the river rehabilitation efforts will also focus on widening and deepening the areas that have become too shallow for floodwaters to pass through.

With the success of this focused rehabilitation project, one day the river itself may be safely used again as an alternative mode of transportation by watercraft or water ferries.

The PAREX project is providing several integral benefits to the country while being responsible and cautious about the environmental and cultural impact of the project at the same time. The new expressway is not just going to be for Filipinos with cars, but will also be accessible to alternative methods of transportation for commuters, including a mass transport system through bus rapid transit and bike lanes.

At the end of the day, it’s important that we not be afraid of making changes that will benefit the country in the long run. SMC and Ang have long proven that they care deeply for the welfare of Filipinos and are focused on finding ways to help the country progress. They have shown this time and again – always being the first to help out during a crisis, donating and contributing continuously during the pandemic, finding ways to create projects and initiatives that are beneficial to the public, and investing their own money despite long returns because for the benefit of nation-building.

The PAREX is another project that seeks to uplift the Philippines and help Filipinos. Alongside cleaning up the river, integrating green architecture principles, and adding several modes of private and mass transportation – the expressway could become a model for future green infrastructure initiatives that will benefit motorists, commuters, cyclists, and pedestrians alike while being carefully planned out and environmentally responsible.

Not all change is bad. Sometimes we need let go of the status quo and opt for new initiatives and projects that can have a long-term positive impact on Metro Manila and help improve the lives of Filipinos.

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