Traffic > Appraisal

Why rebuilding the Rockwell Bridge makes no sense

Something to read while you’re likely stuck in traffic in the area

The fairly new Rockwell Bridge is falling down. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

If your commute in or out of Makati and its surrounding areas seems extra bad at the moment, then it might have something to do with the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge being closed. The much-used river crossing—often simply referred to as the Rockwell Bridge—has been off limits to motor-vehicle traffic since yesterday (September 23) and will not be available to commuters until some time in 2021, or 30 months later, when a new version featuring four instead of the current two lanes is scheduled to be opened. What looks like a worthwhile project at first glance sadly seems to make little to no sense upon closer inspection for at least a couple of reasons.

Notice: Chinese-funded men working. Yay! PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

For starters, tearing down a barely eight-year-old bridge and replacing it with a wider version will resolve absolutely zero of the traffic problems in the area. Depending on whom you ask, between 20,000 and 100,000 vehicles are said to have been using the Rockwell steel bridge every day, and the plan for the new structure is to increase the number of lanes going across it from two to four, doubling its capacity in the process. That might all make perfect sense inside the head of whichever traffic planners came up with this idea, but reality is about to deliver a big, fat NOPE to their doorstep. Simply widening the road will not do anything to ease congestion in the vicinity. In fact, quite the opposite might be the case.

This bridge is simply not good enough (at least in the minds of the authorities). Well... PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

On the Mandaluyong side, the bridge ends on Pantaleon Street and Barangka Drive, both roads that are already heaving with vehicles during rush hour. Sending more cars into this area will only make this bottleneck worse (and I say this as someone who lives not far from the place and sees the chaos firsthand every single day). On the Makati side, cars are either funneled through to the already congested EDSA or made to find their way through Rockwell and eventually along Kalayaan Avenue and onto Makati Avenue—a road so badly congested it already makes you lose the will to live on most days.

Simply widening the road will not do anything to ease congestion in the vicinity. In fact, quite the opposite might be the case

So, why is the bridge being rebuilt? None of the powers-that-be have indicated that there is anything structurally wrong with it, so the reason probably lies elsewhere. When we stopped by the bridge earlier today to take some pictures of it for this article, a group of rather camera-shy Chinese workers was already in the process of taking the bridge apart, with sparks from an acetylene torch providing a short distraction for commuters stuck in traffic next to the structure. The reason those workers weren’t too excited about being caught on film may have something to do with the way this controversial project is being financed.

Picture this...in time for the Christmas season. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The whole undertaking is estimated to cost around P1.2 billion, and will be paid for with funds from a P5.27-billion Chinese grant that also includes resources for a new Binondo-Intramuros Bridge in Manila. So far, you could say that it’s rather nice of China to give the Philippines money for new bridges, except there’s a bit of a catch: The Department of Public Works and Highways earlier this year signed contracts with Chinese firms CCCC Highway Consultant Ltd. and China Road and Bridge Corporation for the two bridge projects. The first company does the planning and project management, while the second one carries out the actual work. This means the crossings are paid for by China, but the money will go straight back to Chinese companies. And all that the residents of Metro Manila will seem to get in return is worse traffic. Doesn’t really sound like a worthwhile deal if you think about it, but what do we know?

It’s time to familiarize yourself with the alternative routes around the area. Good luck. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

If we lowly motoring journalists were allowed to have some input into this affair, then building a second bridge next to this one might have been a better idea. This additional crossing should have been for pedestrians and cyclists only, hence encouraging people to get out of their cars and actually do something to reduce traffic levels in the area. Handing over yet more city space to cars will only further feed the time- and money-eating traffic monster. For now, just prepare yourself for an even worse commute than you already have—or take up cycling instead.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring.