The Rise of PAREX in Manila: An Antithesis to Green Mobility
March 21, 2023
Soon, Manileños will see a new addition to the skyline of the capital. The linear vista of the waterfront of Pasig River, the most significant waterway crossing several cities of Metro Manila, anticipates a change that will unveil drastic outcomes on the quality of life of Filipinos.
Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) is a 19.37-kilometre six-lane elevated expressway infrastructure that is soon to be built on top of the Pasig River, linking Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay. Estimated at P95.4 billion (SGD2.3 billion), the infrastructure is a joint venture between Philippine National Construction Corporation (PNCC) and San Miguel Holdings Corporation (SMHC). This high-valued investment, deemed safe and reliable, aims to contribute to the efficiency of the country’s transportation system.
Amidst the myriad scenes of traffic jams in Metro Manila, the project attempts to divert traffic volume to alternative faster routes that lead to the core business districts including Makati, Ortigas Center and Bonifacio Global City (BGC).
By establishing a direct connection between western and eastern cities of Manila, PAREX claims to be able to decongest the amount of traffic on the major roads in the metro like EDSA, R-10 and C-5 through the provision of ramps on its distributed segments in Buendia, Mandaluyong, Makati City, Pioneer and BGC. Adding to this link in all corridors of the National Capital Region, SMHC plans to integrate a high-quality bus rapid transit (BRT) system, comparable to those in cities like Jakarta and Guangzhou.
Unmasking the ‘solution’
PAREX seems to be a bed of roses running along the banks of Pasig River, a solution to add connectivity in the capital, ease the traffic, and provide a public transit at par with international standards. So, what could go wrong? A lot.
After the approval of technical and financial aspects of PAREX by the Toll Regulatory Board in 2021, arguments from cultural and environmental advocates and planners started to emerge, outweighing the possibilities of the ‘beneficial’ infrastructure. Despite the supposed selling points, the project drew immense flak due to the foreseen threats on the environment and cultural heritage sites within the segments’ vicinity.
Contrary to its intention to reduce traffic congestion, PAREX will soon become another instigator of drivers’ nightmare. By the concept of induced traffic leading to induced demand, this means that an additional expressway in the heart of the metro, expanding road network and capacity, will lead to increased driving demand, conflicting with the intention to mitigate traffic jams. Similar to water pipes—the bigger the pipes, the higher the volume of water they carry—having more roads will lead to more traffic.
A city that could have been
A lifelong dream of every Filipino commuter is to experience an enhanced public rail and bus system, connecting all parts of the city and its neighbouring provinces. The same project cost to build an elevated expressway could have been invested in the improvement of ferry services, bus and train systems, and related infrastructure like ports and terminals. By now, Manila should be able to adapt to the common norm of transport and learn from the cases in developed and emerging cities.
The Iloilo River Esplanade, designed by Alcazaren, is an example of a Green slow mobility infrastructure befitting the Filipino context, integrated with an overall rehabilitation project of Iloilo River in Visayas. Boasting a linear park for pedestrians and designated sections for cyclists, this 9-kilometre promenade is used as a reference to Alcazaren’s proposed concept of Pasig River Esplanade, or in the colloquial label PARES (as opposed to the acronym PAREX), which is a park lining both sides of the river with slow mobility bridge in every kilometre. This plausible concept ideally supports the existing initiatives that led to the gradual revival of Pasig River and its capacity to take part in climate resilience.