Trophy bridges

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Our leaders have a penchant for showcase projects whose economic justification, given our limited resources, can be questioned. We surely need a lot of bridges to connect our archipelago. But we have to be wary of eye-catching trophy projects with limited usefulness. Of course, it can also be said that even seemingly white elephant public works projects will eventually be useful. Build it and they will come, as in the field of dreams.

For example, the San Juanico Bridge in Leyte was for the longest time, used mostly by tricycles and carabao sleds. Of course, it is an important connection that is part of the Pan Philippine Highway that makes it possible to travel by bus from Metro Manila to Davao.

JICA is now proposing a second bridge as the traffic in the original bridge is close to its capacity of 10,000 vehicles a day and suffers high maintenance costs.

A long-standing proposal by my friend Tong Payumo, a former congressman from Bataan, is the construction of a bridge that will link Bataan to Cavite across the mouth of Manila Bay and passing through Corregidor Island.

The Bataan–Cavite Interlink Bridge will be 32.15 kilometers long, of which 25.8 kilometers will be over Manila Bay.

The Bataan-Cavite Bridge, envisioned to be one of the world’s longest marine bridges, was initially estimated to cost $3.91 billion to construct. The amount will be bankrolled through a multi-tranche financing scheme under which $2.1 billion will be financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) while $1.14 billion will be co-financed by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The remaining $664.23 million will be funded by the Philippine government.

On Dec. 12, 2023, the ADB announced it had approved the $2.1 billion funding it promised for the construction of this bridge.

On the other hand, AIIB announced that their share of first tranche funding, worth $350 million, will be available to the Philippine government by January 2024 with construction to start within the year.

Construction is estimated to take five years.

NEDA approved the bridge project in early 2020 with a budget of P175.7 billion. As of March 2023, the project’s detailed engineering design is already 70 percent complete, according to DPWH. Due to inflation and other factors, the project will now cost P219.3 billion, up from the initial cost of P175.7 billion, and the implementation period will now stretch to December 2029.

The bridge is being justified as an alternative route from north Luzon to south Luzon avoiding the heavily congested roadways of NCR. A direct connection between Bataan and Cavite would reduce the travel time between Bataan and the southern provinces in Luzon from five hours to 45 minutes.

We have many other ambitious bridge projects all over the country. There is a proposal to connect Mactan with Bohol. There is the Negros-Guimaras-Iloilo bridge project. The 3.77-km Panguil Bay bridge to connect Tangub, Misamis Occidental and Tubod, Lanao del Norte is now under construction. A P23.04-billion, four-lane, toll-free bridge to connect Samal Island to Davao is funded by China’s Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Connectivity among our many islands is important for regional economic development. The ferries that now provide some connectivity are not always efficient nor have the capacity to carry the passengers and goods that must be transported across islands. Bridges are good investments for economic growth provided that we are careful to be cost efficient in planning and implementation.

It is not enough that there are foreign ODA sources for funding. That money is not free. We have to pay that back at some point. Besides, ODAs are more interested in how big-ticket projects can help their own economy. The Japanese, for instance, are funding these projects because it helps their steel industry (require a high level of material content of Japanese origin). Japanese and Chinese ODA are also about giving business opportunities to their companies.

Our planners shouldn’t neglect smaller projects that will potentially make the daily lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people easier. For instance, we need about 10 pedestrian bridges across the Pasig River, according to urban planner Paulo Alcazaren. Today, commuters take a perilous ride on a banca across the stinking river to get to work or to school. I am told that the cost of these ten pedestrian bridges is not more than the cost of a single vehicular bridge across the Pasig River.

To really help daily commuters, these pedestrian bridges should be matched with the Pasig River ferries. These bridges will let pedestrians cut several rides to their commute. These bridges should also cater to bicycle riders. Finally, these 10 would also provide users of the proposed nine segments of the Pasig River Esplanade to do walking or jogging loops of approximately two to three kilometers (the equivalent of one round of the QC elliptical park).

There is also an urgent need for more vehicular bridges across the Pasig River to help alleviate traffic jams, a point Ed Yap of MAP’s Infrastructure Committee raised.

Public Works Secretary Manuel Bonoan said last year in a briefing following BBM’s SONA that there will be “five or six” more bridges “across the Pasig River.” He didn’t say where and when construction would start.

I still worry that the Bataan-Cavite bridge and some of the other big bridges planned will be white elephants for a long time. They look like trophy projects. Hopefully, our government doesn’t forget the practical day-to-day needs. Let’s have those humble pedestrian bridges across the Pasig River. The harassed commuters should be served.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on X @boochanco

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