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Urban Planner Explains Why The Proposed Elevated Pasig River Expressway Won’t Help Solve Metro Manila’s Traffic Problem

Urban Planner Explains Why The Proposed Elevated Pasig River Expressway Won’t Help Solve Metro Manila’s Traffic Problem
The proposed elevated Pasig River Expressway. Photo from San Miguel Corporation’s Facebook page

 The proposed elevated Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) will not solve Metro Manila’s traffic problem, an urban planner and landscape artist said, noting that building more roads will only attract more traffic.

In an interview with “The Chiefs” on One News on Tuesday, Sept. 28, Paulo Alcazaren explained that instead of building additional roads, the government should focus on building more public transport systems.

“Basically the PAREX was hoisted as a solution to our ‘traffic woes’ but the fact of the matter is building more roads will not ease traffic unless we refocus our infrastructure building to public transport and non-motorized pedestrian rides,” Alcazaren said.

“The concept of induced demand states that the more roads you build, the more traffic it will bring,” he added.

The urban planner noted that a skyway – which is the concept of the proposed PAREX – is a “double whammy.”

“Because it passes along or on top or beside the Pasig [River], it brings [additional] pollution to a corridor that didn’t have any air pollution and also compromises the integrity of the Pasig River itself in terms of its function as a floodway as well as the fact that it's a historic landscape with a great number of heritage structures and sites all along its 25-kilometer length,” Alcazaren pointed out.

PAREX, a proposed six-lane, 19.37-kilometer toll project to be built by San Miguel Corporation (SMC), is intended to connect Manila to the province of Rizal.  The P95-billion project has secured the approval of the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), and already broke ground for its construction on Sept. 24.

However, the proposed expressway was met with strong opposition from several groups and netizens online, citing that PAREX may “kill” the river even further as it already suffers from severe pollution.

But SMC president Ramon Ang, in a statement on Tuesday, Sept. 28, defended the project from the “lies” being propagated against the expressway.

Ang said that aside from the toll project, SMC will spend P2 billion to extract three million metric tons of solid waste from the Pasig River to allow it to channel floodwaters more effectively, and also to allow for safer operations of water ferries. PAREX will also be a “hybrid expressway,” as it will accommodate several modes of transportation in the form of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), the SMC president explained.

The BRT, according to the global non-government organization Institute for Transportation and Development Authority, is a bus-based transport system done “through the provision of dedicated lanes, with busways and iconic stations typically aligned to the center of the road, off-board fare collection, and fast and frequent operations.” 

‘Lipstick on a pig’

Asked for comment on Ang’s defense, Alcazaren said that the SMC’s explanation was “lipstick on a pig.”  “It’s a fickle idea,” he said. “I mean, they only came up with this after the fact that there was a lot of fallout on social media, and so the spin doctors now are on overtime.”

“They're saying the six lanes will now incorporate a BRT lane, bike lanes and pedestrian lanes, but the problem is these skyways are tens of meters above.”

“To connect a pedestrian system from the banks of the river and the rest of the pedestrian network on both sides, one would have to go on several flights and the equivalent of about five stories to get up there,” he added. “The BRT system will also require that you walk up there and the central terminals are in the middle of the road so it can't work.”

The urban planner also cited examples overseas, such as South Korea’s Cheonggyecheon, where a skyway was torn down to revert the area to its original state.

“It proved that the skyway didn’t improve the traffic at all. It didn’t address congestion,” he said. “And in dozens of cities worldwide, they’re tearing down skyways because these elevated expressways have been found – especially as the ones that go through the course of cities – will not help alleviate traffic congestion,” he said.

Nipped in the bud

As the project faces opposition, Alcazaren said that it is possible that the case will be brought to the courts, citing the writ of kalikasan – a legal remedy that provides protection of one's right to a healthy environment, as outlined in Section 16, Article 2 of the Constitution.

The urban planner added that a temporary restraining order can be imposed against PAREX.

“Various groups are already working towards that,” he said. “Everyone has now thrown their hats in and supported the no to PAREX movement so I believe it will happen, hopefully it will be nipped in the bud,” Alcazaren said.

Instead of spending P95 billion on an elevated expressway, Alcazaren called on Ang focus on SMC’s other project, the MRT-7.

“I would suggest he [focuses] also on his MRT-7 which has a deficiency on terminals not having good intermodal connections to the rest of the transport systems,” he explained. “I pointed this out – and a lot of us have pointed out – that  along the alignment of  the MRT-7 is that it lacked the link between the MRTs and buses, jeeps, bikes and the pedestrians and this is where money could be spent.”

Creating distrust


Despite the company’s commitment to undertake the project “at a level of sustainability never before done by any other private company,” Ang said “those leading others to denounce the project are manipulative and single-minded in their goal of creating distrust for PAREX for their own agenda.”

On the issue that the PAREX will worsen pollution and induce people to buy more cars, Ang stressed the number of vehicles would continue to rise nonetheless, with or without the upcoming project.

“It is not expressways that induce people to buy more cars. It is poor or insufficient public transportation, pollution, and even personal progress of people,” Ang said.

“Traffic and pollution will worsen if we do not build efficient, multi-purpose, future-ready infrastructure such as the PAREX,” he added.

The businessman said there is also no truth to claims that the project is anti-poor and that it would only benefit the privileged who use cars.

As to such concerns that the project will destroy Pasig River, SMC said the river has long been considered biologically dead and has been reduced to a flowing dumpsite for solid waste, industrial and chemical wastes, and sewage.

Ang said SMC, however, is mounting the largest river clean-up and rehabilitation effort for the river.

“Adaptations to the environment and local surroundings are part of our commitments with the government and local government units. All valid concerns will also be addressed during the detailed engineering design development phase for the project,” Ang said, noting that PAREX would be built only on the banks of Pasig River.

SMC also set the record straight on the issue involving the firm of internationally-renowned architect, environment planner, and green urbanism advocate Felino Palafox Jr. to help in building the PAREX project.

Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group Inc., in a statement, said they have not signed any contract to be the consultant of the PAREX.

“Our firm remains strong with our stand that public and private sectors must work together in addressing this climate crisis through multisectoral sustainable development. This means that all economic, social, health and environmental aspects must be carefully assessed before proceeding with any project,” they said.

Ang said the company has had initial discussion with Palafox and Associates for a potential consulting agreement.

However, he emphasized that there is no formal engagement with Palafox.

“But we have been in discussion, something that we have been very clear from the start – that we want him to help us do PAREX right,” he said.

“We’ve come to learn from him, however, that forces critical of the project have been exerting pressure on him, his associates, and his family to drop the project. We believe this is part of an orchestrated and continuing demolition job to paint the project as the opposite of what it truly is,” Ang said.

Ang believes Palafox and his team could help the company level up Philippine infrastructure to benefit people, the economy, and the environment.

“With the project now formally approved by government, we can move forward with engaging design consultants and working on the detailed design. This is the phase where all valid concerns of stakeholders will be taken into consideration—and where architect Palafox and his team can provide us invaluable help,” he said.

The 19.37-kilometer PAREX project which broke ground last Friday, will be a six-lane elevated expressway that will run along the banks of the river from Radial Road 10 in Manila to C-6 Road or the South East Metro Manila Expressway in Taguig. 

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