The Troubled Bridge Over Water

I’m sure you’ll agree that bridges and spans are intrinsically good things in both literal and figurative terms. They can be beautiful exemplars of engineering and are a constant reminder that even the deepest of ravines and canyons, the mightiest of rivers, and the largest bodies of water can be conquered. If you really think about it, bridges can be downright inspiring.

That is, until they fail, are in the throes of disrepair, or need to be closed. The ramifications on travel are pretty obvious. I remember when a short span into my lola’s hometown of Paete in Laguna needed rehabilitation and had to be closed. That meant negotiating a circuitous path for an additional hour or so just to get there.

Which is quite possibly why there is growing grumbling and dissent over the impending closure of the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge – one of three connectors of Mandaluyong and Makati. Also known as the Rockwell Bridge, the span obviously aids in decongesting the other two spans on Guadalupe (which boasts 10 lanes, and is reportedly carries the most traffic among all bridges in Metro Manila) and Makati-Mandaluyong.

At first blush, the box truss span that is the Rockwell Bridge is nothing impressive. It is a no-frills, straightforward link from Estrella Street in Makati to Pantaleon Street in my home city of Mandaluyong. But take my word for it when I say it is a big timesaver and stress reliever if you want to bypass the stop-and-go snooze-fest in EDSA coming from and going to Makati. You can even see how vehicles leak onto the Rockwell flyover from EDSA to head for Estrella to ostensibly avoid the constant slowdown approaching Guadalupe.

Now to be fair, the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge does get congested, too. By the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s reckoning, the bridge is used by an average of 100,000 vehicles daily. Coming from Makati, it’s easy to see the bottleneck. Estrella is a six-lane thoroughfare that funnels into one lane of bridge on the left, and the remainder into JP Rizal. Of course, most motorists want to get onto the span – and you get the idea.

Still, a bridge is better than no bridge – or a needless “upgrade.” That’s according to a lobby group representing business establishments in Rockwell raising their hackles amid the impending closure of the bridge on January 12.

A position paper contends that the bridge, inaugurated in 2011, is one of the youngest in the metropolis. “The bridge was also part of the Austrian government’s project to fund and build… 19 weather-resistant bridges. This particular bridge cost P300 million.”

Originally scheduled for closure in September last year for a new iteration, the bridge is one of two China Grant-Aid spans “financed by the People’s Republic of China through a bilateral cooperation with the Republic of the Philippines,” according to a Philippine Information Agency release, which quotes Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar as saying that the construction is “part of the Metro Manila Logistics Network — a traffic management master plan created to decongest Metro Manila by adding 12 additional bridges crossing Pasig River, Marikina River, and Manggahan Floodway.”

The new design of the Rockwell Bridge will double the road size to four lanes (two per direction), but detractors are airing a number of concerns, chief of which will be the adverse implications on business in view of a rather protracted closure of 30 months. I agree that this is a pretty long time to wait when so much is at stake and when “engineering technology already exists to expand the bridge without having to close (it down entirely).” Establishments open and close over shorter periods. They also contend that “the DPWH and MMDA have yet to provide viable alternate routes to address the motorists who will have to be rerouted because of the bridge’s closure.”

Despite the increased capacity, “the roads surrounding the bridge will be at a standstill at this volume since the new four-lane bridge will lead into a two-lane road (in Mandaluyong),” continues the paper. A proposed alternative is to build an additional bridge in another area. This indeed makes more sense because the increase in capacity will not come after both a long wait and, well, all the aforementioned.

Plus, to be honest, we don’t risk ticking off our Austrian benefactors who bankrolled the current bridge.

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