"We cannot see any gain, only pain, in the construction of the Estrella-Pantaleon bridge."
Ever since he assumed the Public Works and Highway portfolio, Secretary Mark Villar has been touted as one of the best the agency has ever had.
As a strict and ardent disciple of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Build, Build, Build mantra, Villar has been doing everything to meet the country’s shortfall in infrastructures, wittingly or unwittingly, contributing to solving the country’s worsening traffic woes.
And it seems he is on the right track as he had heeded advice finding better ways of tackling Metro Manila’s traffic nightmare: Build more bridges. Provide more sidewalks and bicycle lanes.
Until the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge.
In September 2018, it was announced that the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge connecting Makati and Mandaluyong would be closed for 30 months for reconstruction. The current two-lane bridge would be demolished to build a four-lane one.
The Department of Public Works and Highways claims that the new bridge can accommodate 1.3 million cars, a far cry from the 100,000 vehicles the current bridge accommodates daily.
However, it seems the project is ill-planned as it would only serve as a congested funnel pouring more than a million vehicles daily into a narrow two-lane road. In fact, even in its current state, traffic at the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge always comes to a standstill—not because of the bridge’s incapacity to accommodate the numbers of vehicles passing through it, but rather, the incapacity of the streets at both ends to accommodate such volume of traffic.
Thus, the unreasonably long closure of the bridge for two and a half years will contribute greatly to the metropolis’ traffic problem as tens of thousands of cars will have to be rerouted to the already perpetually traffic-congested roads like EDSA and Makati Avenue.
Sadly, bot the DPWH and the Metro Manila Development Authority have yet to provide viable alternate routes for motorists who will have to be rerouted because of the bridge’s closure.
Their previous suggestion, Guadalupe Bridge, will also be closed for rehabilitation.
Why is there a rush to have the bridge demolished and to construct another one?
The Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge was inaugurated in 2011. At eight years old, it is one of the youngest bridges in the metro.
The bridge was also part of the Austrian government’s project to fund and build the construction of 19 weather-resistant bridges. This particular bridge cost P300 million.
If there is one viable solution to ease traffic in that particular area, it is to adhere strictly to the administration’s mantra of Build, Build, Build, by building another bridge in a nearby area to provide new thoroughfares for motorists.
And if indeed there is really a need to expand the bridge, there already exists engineering technology to expand it without having to entirely close it down.
Actually, it’s quite puzzling why the project has been conceptualized in the first place as there is no public demand to rebuild the bridge at all. In fact, the public appealed for the reopening of the bridge following its abrupt closure last September.
And with neither drawing nor construction plan being disclosed to the public yet, it seems the project might have been railroaded and postponed at whim, unconstrained by any real construction plan.
To think that the cost of the project for every motorist using that bridge would be staggering. Up to now, no traffic management plans have yet been announced or ideated to address congestion during construction and even after the bridge’s completion.
And it’s just a few days before they close the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge on Jan. 12.
Villar might have been effective in solving the infrastructure backlog left by his predecessor. But he might have gone a bridge too far in the case of the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge.
So far, we cannot see any gain—only pain—in the construction of the new bridge to be undertaken by two firms long blacklisted by the World Bank for fraudulent practices.
Amid the overwhelming public clamor, Villar should call off or postpone the project. The Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge should remain open.