Travel and Tourism

Experiencing the SCTEX

- Leah Salteriio -

MANILA, Philippines - “Over green fields, trees and mountains...”

This line from Elton John’s memorable hit, Skyline Pigeon, best describes the picturesque stretch of the Subic-Clark Tarlac Expressway, now popularly called as SCTEX.

Providing travelers with a breathtaking view of verdant fields and majestic mountain ranges, SCTEX has been considered as the most scenic of all expressways in the country and has become a tourist attraction in itself.

The major toll road provides a seamless link between Subic and Clark, traversing the provinces of Zambales, Bataan, Pampanga and Tarlac, and thus serving as the new economic backbone rapidly rising in Central Luzon and its adjoining regions.

Since the project was completed in July 2008, SCTEX continues to help drive tourism growth in Central Luzon, all the way to Baguio, Benguet and La Union, by making travel time easier, faster and more convenient.

Through SCTEX, tourist destinations in these areas have become easily accessible. Subic’s theme parks, Clark’s hotels, resorts and duty-free shops, the pristine beaches of Zambales, Bataan and Olongapo, the now-famous Mt. Pinatubo trek via Capas, Tarlac, the Hundred Islands in Pangasinan, Baguio’s Camp John Hay and La Union’s Thunderbird Resorts Poro Point are fast becoming must-see attractions.

A flagship project of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), SCTEX interconnects Central Luzon’s three major economic and industrial zones — Subic Bay, Clark and Central Techno Park in Tarlac.

With a length spanning 94 kilometers, the four-lane highway features world-class and state-of-the-art facilities. There are 12 interchanges, eight overpasses, 54 underpasses, 351 drainage culverts, 14 toll plazas, traffic control systems, and assistance centers.

There is a girder, informs project engineer Jake Bingcang, which is “earthquake proof.” Built under the Gumain Bridge in Floridablanca, Pampanga, the girder is imported from Japan and is an engineering marvel. From the ground, it is 55 meters high and 400 meters long.

With the abundant supply of lahar deposits in the area after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991, SCTEX made massive use of lahar as embankment material. “We used 70 million cubic meters of lahar for the entire stretch of the highway,” says Bingcang. “Today, lahar no longer poses a threat to the people of Pampanga and Zambales.”

Along Barangay Pio in Porac, Pampanga, the highway cuts through a mountain, which is likewise a spectacular wonder for travelers. Bingcang points out they had to secure a permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to be able to work on the mountainous area.

SCTEX also links major infrastructure such as the Subic Seaport and the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark. As a result, it is helping transform the Central Luzon region into a world-class logistics hub in the Asia-Pacific Rim.

According to retired Gen. Robert Gervasio, project manager for operational support services of SCTEX, the BCDA sought the help of Japan Bank to finance the construction of the modern toll road. Budget for civil works alone amounted to P21 billion over a construction span of three years.

However, the biggest challenge for the BCDA was coordinating with local government units for the right of way. “There was always resistance and security issues, but thankfully, everything was resolved, that’s why we were able to push through with the (road) project,” Gervasio says.

SCTEX now plays a major role in the efficient, faster and more convenient delivery of goods and services to and from Central and Northern Luzon. As such, it reduces the cost of doing business and boosts opportunities in the region.

An area along the highway, says Gervasio, is being eyed as a site for a Holly-wood soundstage and a theme park, which can also be tourist attractions in the future.

Noticeably, there are no billboards along the entire span of SCTEX, so as not to obstruct the scenery.

At present, Bingcang discloses that the BCDA is coordinating with the Department of Public Works and Highways for a new highway connecting Tarlac, Pangasinan and La Union. Also under feasibility study is a road going to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija.

Heading the list of Central Luzon’s emerging tourist destinations are the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan and the New Well Being Spa of the Lohas Hotel in Clark, Pampanga — two destinations that can be visited in just one day via the SCTEX.

Just an easy, two-and-a-half hour drive from Manila is Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a heritage resort in the heart of Bataan which transports visitors to a more gracious period in Philippine history.

Occupying a 400-hectare site overlooking the South China Sea, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar can best be described as the Philippine version of Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg, giving guests a glimpse of the country’s historic past and actually experience it.

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is essentially a life-sized replica of a town settlement during Spanish times, with several restored, reconstructed and historically furnished houses. The place boasts of authentic 19th century mansions or original stone houses and cobblestone plazas and streets carefully taken down from different parts of the country and painstakingly rebuilt brick by brick and plank by plank in Bagac.

The structures are at least a hundred years old and have been restored to their former grandeur. One house was even used as location for the GMA 7 series Zorro, which had Richard Gutierrez in the title role.

For those seeking to be pampered, a day tour to the New Well Being Spa of the Lohas Hotel in Clark is an ideal weekend treat. The hotel is built on a three-hectare property around the former Red Villas Clubhouse.

The spa, said to be the largest in the region, offers Swedish, shiatsu, aromatherapy and foot massage, but is best known for Jjimjilbang, a three-step, Korean-style sauna that is invigorating.

With the SCTEX, road travel is no longer just a mere drive, but also a wonderful experience.

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