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Binondo-Intramuros bridge project requires thoughtful plan

EARLIER this week the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands (CCPI) and preservation groups rejected the government’s plan to build a Binondo-Intramuros bridge, saying it would ruin parts of Manila’s historic walled city without necessarily helping ease traffic.

The bridge is one of a dozen new bridges to be built or rebuilt over the Pasig River and Manggahan Floodway as part of the Duterte administration’s Metro Manila Logistics Improvement Network project. The four-lane, 734-meter span will connect Solana Street and Riverside in Intramuros with San Fernando Street in Binondo, sometime in 2020 as may be expected. The estimated P4.2 billion cost of the project is being paid for by a grant from the Chinese government. The National Economic Development Authority approved the bridge project in July 2017 after the funding arrangements with China were formalized, and a ceremonial groundbreaking was held on July 17 of this year.

While basing its arguments against the bridge solely on concerns about practicality and the potential damage to the Intramuros heritage area, the CCPI did acknowledge that a small part of its property located next to the Bureau of Immigration headquarters along Riverside Drive would be lost to the bridge’s right-of-way.

In contrast to the CCPI’s position, the group’s counterpart with headquarters on the Binondo side of the river, the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, strongly endorsed the project in a statement issued last month.

We, here at The Manila Times, also expect to be directly affected by the new bridge as its southern end will be less than two blocks away from our offices. Whether it will have a positive or negative effect on traffic congestion in our Intramuros neighborhood remains to be seen.

The controversy over the new bridge is troubling on a number of grounds. CCPI’s dissent could have been made a little earlier for impact; the project is already in its early stages of preparation for construction. The project was first proposed more than two years ago, and it has been more than a year since funding for it was secured, and yet it is only now that a serious complaint is being raised. There is little disagreement that the existing river crossings that are heavily used need to be augmented in some way, but the practical time to discuss various alternatives has long since passed.

Nevertheless, the concern of the CCPI and historical preservation advocates about the potential harm to the centuries-old features of Intramuros cannot be dismissed. The old Walled City is a national treasure, and the great strides successive administrations have made in preserving and improving the area have made it an increasingly valuable tourism asset. Any development that causes harm is simply unacceptable, no matter what other benefits it may provide.

Even if it is impractical to start from scratch and find a new and, perhaps, less invasive location for the bridge, the government should carefully heed the concerns raised about it and make adjustments to the design as necessary. The bridge should be designed as part of a network, with due consideration given to the approaches and the roads leading to them, so that traffic congestion — already a serious, damaging problem in Intramuros — is actually reduced. Likewise, the aesthetic impact of the bridge design should be considered as well, so that it complements its surroundings.

Addressing these factors in the construction of the new bridge would relieve the legitimate concerns over the historical heritage of the Walled City, as well as help to preserve the area by easing the burden of heavy traffic. This should be the outcome of every government infrastructure initiative that affects the Philippines’ physical and cultural landscape.

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