Are We All Set For The Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge Closure On January 19?

Amid several pushbacks and public outcry, it seems like the closure of the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge will finally commence.

According to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the controversial destruction of the bridge that connects Mandaluyong and Makati will begin on January 19.

Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge Closure

Opened in 2011, the 676-meter modular steel bridge was funded by the Austrian government as part of the 19 weather-resistant bridges under the Bridge Construction and Acceleration Project for Calamity Stricken Areas program.

The current structure in place is estimated to handle 22,000 vehicles daily. According to the agency, the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge currently caters to between 25,000 and 30,000 cars every day.

Why are they bringing down the bridge?

According to the DPWH, the construction of a new four-lane bridge will make way for an increase in carrying capacity that will better serve the progressive cities of Makati and Mandaluyong and other motorists using Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge as alternative route and for service sustainability that will enable the structure to cope with extreme event such as high intensity earthquake or “The Big One” that may occur anytime as announced by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOCS).

In addition to the potential destruction of the Rockwell Bridge in an event of a strong earthquake, DPWH also believes that the bridge is currently at overcapacity.

With the addition of two more lanes, the department believes it can cope better with the ballooning vehicular traffic. In addition to the upgrade from two lanes to four, the sidewalks will also become wider to accommodate to pedestrians.

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Bridge under trouble

The closure of the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge has been announced as early as September last year, which was met with heavy scrutiny from the public. After getting under heavy fire, the DPWH delayed the start of the project. However, it seems like there’s no stopping now.

Even the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has given its take on the issue, which will be the government agency delegated in softening the blow the motorists will take when the bridge construction starts. General Manager Jojo Garcia said that despite the inconvenience brought by the infrastructure program, there is no better time to do it than now.

“We have data that every year, there are 270,000 new vehicles in Metro Manila. This is excluding cars from Region IV and Region III coming to Metro Manila every morning. If that would take three years and there are 270,000 new cars yearly, then that’s close to one million new cars. If we’ll wait and wait and wait before we close it, then nothing would happen,” said Garcia in a report by CNN.

Why all the hate?

First, detractors of the project criticize the futility of widening the bridge. Although the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge will have four lanes in the future, the Mandaluyong side of the bridge will not be wide enough to accommodate the expansion.

Both E. Pantaleon Street and Barangka Drive only have two lanes, which is predicted to become a chokepoint on both sides.

Currently, the Mandaluyong side of the bridge is chaotic enough as it is, with the one-way southbound traffic from Sgt. Bumatay Street converging into one lane as it reaches the foot of the bridge. Meanwhile, northbound traffic headed for Barangka Drive is also condensed in bottleneck because of police checkpoints in the area.

However, the more pressing concern from the public is the contractor chosen by the government to work on the bridge.

DPWH said that the new Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge will be constructed by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC). The project is estimated to last for 30 months, with a budget of P1.2 billion.

CRBC and other subsidiaries under the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) are blacklisted by the World Bank after a thorough investigation of its fraudulent activities.

In 2009, the multilateral agency found out that the Chinese firm was found guilty of manipulating bid prices on the Philippines first phase of the National Roads Improvement and Management Project.

Furthermore, CCCC’s projects in Malaysia and Australia are also under investigation due to either alleged corrupt practices or substandard infrastructure.

The CCCC bagged several big-ticket projects by the Duterte administration such as the Subic-Clark railway project, a bus rapid transit connecting Bonifacio Global City and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, an investment project in a port in Cebu, and others.

Last May, Malacañang said that critics of the projects bagged by CCCC and its subsidiaries should give them “a second chance.”

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Reroute to remain

Now that commuting from Mandaluyong to Makati and vice versa will become much worse, what can the average Filipino do to get through the 30-month traffic that has been ridiculously exacerbated by the closure of the Rockwell Bridge?

People who are coming from the heart of Metro Manila will be forced to take either the Guadalupe or Makati Avenue Bridges.

However, another alternative for people coming from San Juan, Mandaluyong, and several parts of Manila is to use the New Panaderos Bridge that takes motorists from Kalentong in Mandaluyong to Santa Ana in Manila then making their way to Makati Central Business District.

The road that will take the brunt of the closure will be Dr. J.P. Rizal Avenue that stretches from Guadalupe Viejo to all the way to Zobel Roxas Extension in Manila.

Despite implementing a one-way traffic scheme from the Makati Avenue portion of the road, the said thoroughfare still experiences heavy traffic due to numerous constructions, parked vehicles on the side of the road, and number of traffic lights along the way.

Are there other ways to make this less unbearable? Although the MMDA talked about clearing surrounding roads of illegally parked vehicles, it’s hard to put faith in that given that our traffic-alleviating projects are just band-aid solutions to our deep-seated problems. The best thing we can do is to just hope for this nightmare to end quicker than 30 months.

Other sources:Worldbank, Bloomberg