“Are the objections valid in the first place?”
There are urban planning groups that have strong objections to the San Miguel Corporation Pasig River Expressway project. The SMC PAREX project envisions a 19-kilometer elevated expressway from the mouth of the Pasig River in Manila going East traversing the river.
To these groups, the SMC PAREX project is the problem and not the solution to the traffic mess in the National Capital Region. These groups also believe that elevated freeways will make traffic congestion worse because expressways will only encourage people to buy cars instead of taking public transportation. Instead of the PAREX, the group wants the government to invest more on rail transportation, improve public transportation, increase protected bikeways, and more importantly, clean and save the Pasig River as it is for people to enjoy.
The first three are actually already being addressed, but the projects do take a while to complete. Most of the objections are based on environmental, public health, the effect of the PAREX on the country’s heritage, and aesthetic concerns. Another reason given which I must admit is the first time I have come across such reasoning is that “newly built expressways will only induce demand which is a poor option of mobility.” Urban freeways to these groups are a thing of the past. Current urban planning trends are now more on striking a balance between people, nature, and infrastructure.
I have not yet come across any response from SMC or whether the company intends to respond.
But are the objections valid in the first place? Let us try to look at all the issues raised. The very reason why there are urban expressways is to provide an uninterrupted and faster travel from one point to another point. It also provides motorists a faster means of getting out of the congested city center. This is what the NLEX-SLEX elevated expressway is now doing. Expressways are meant to lessen congestion and they do. When vehicles travel faster, they emit less pollutants than a vehicle traveling at five kilometers per hour in heavy traffic with frequent stops. As to expressways inducing demand, that is what roads are for.
When the motor vehicle was invented, roads were improved and widened for vehicle use. And for so long as there are motor vehicles, there will be roads. What PAREX will do if ever is to provide an option for drivers whether to take the old congested route or pay and take PAREX and get to their destinations a lot quicker. That way, if the number of vehicles is split, traffic flow on both roads will improve.
As to the groups’ aversion to cars, I do hope that they are practicing what they are preaching and are indeed using public transportation instead of cars. These groups must realize that the car is not yet a disappearing breed especially in this country. Filipinos are just starting to motorize due to their improving financial capabilities. Telling them not to buy cars will obviously not work. Besides, current trends in the motoring industry are shifting away from fossil fuel to electric cars.
A recent study seems to suggest that by about 2030, 30 percent of people in this country would have shifted or want to shift to electric or hybrid vehicles. Hopefully, this shift will accelerate further for the environment and health of the general public. Rivers are admittedly not the best place to build an elevated expressway. And due to the many bridges that are now along the Pasig River, the design of the PAREX might affect some of the historical bridges like the Jones bridge negatively.
For instance, will SMC construct the freeway above the rail bridge along Guadalupe bridge? That would be an ugly sight. The problem of SMC is how to design the freeway so that it will have no or little negative impact on important heritage structures. There is an argument to be made for PAREX in that the NCR road network is totally inadequate to accommodate the ever-increasing vehicles using the roads. Proof of this is the ratio of vehicles per kilometer of road which is about 565. This is way too high.
There has to be more roads. But given that the NCR is already so congested with hardly any space to build new roads, where else can the additional roads be constructed? The only way to go is by elevated roads unless the government is willing to expropriate private properties whose prices are very prohibitive. Not building more roads is obviously not an option.
I do hope that SMC has conducted extensive traffic studies before finalizing the design not only to mitigate some of the objections raised by the various urban planning groups on the environment and aesthetics but will also make the PAREX more efficient.