KALAKLAN LIGTHTHOUSE BRIDGE CLOSURE OPPOSED
Different groups in Olongapo City have banded together to oppose the closure on February 15, 2010 of Kalaklan Lighthouse Bridge which connects Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Olongapo City and the rest of Zambales.
Led by the Greater Subic Bay Tourism Bureau (GSBTB), Metro-Olongapo Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MOCCI), Subic Bay Resorts Association (SUBRA), Olongapo Chinese Chamber of Commerce and several transport groups in Olongapo and Zambales, an appeal to delay if not avoid the closure of Kalaklan Lighthouse Bridge was conveyed to Engineer Joselito Bakuzeta of SBMA Eng’g Dept., in a consultative meeting on January 20, 2010 at the Olongapo City Hall.
A new bridge will be constructed beside the existing one which was built by the U.S. Navy some 50 years ago because, according to SBMA officials, the structure has weakened over time.
However, the same experts said the old bridge can still service light vehicles and pedestrians, which has been the case for almost a year now, pending the construction of a new one.
In a multi-sector meeting held at the SBMA Board Room earlier, it was revealed that the bridge will not be immediately demolished and instead, will be used by the contractor for its equipment, drawing reactions from city representatives for what they say “undue favor to the contractor over the public’s interest.”
According to MOCCI President Aurelio “Bong” Pineda, with the expected resulting monstrous traffic situation in Olongapo once the Kalaklan Lighthouse Bridge is closed, businesses in the city will certainly suffer, eventually affecting everybody, from students to employees, even passersby.
According to the GSBTB, the imminent closure is ill-timed since it will coincide with the on-set of summer vacation, the beginning of construction activities relative to the establishment of the SM Mall, Ayala Mall, Ocean 9 Casino, the Ampelos Tower as well as the Expansion Project of the New Banicain Fishport.
“This will definitely affect our business. Most of our visitors in the summer are day tourists. If the average traveling time from Manila to Subic is 4 hours and another 4 hours going back, visitors have no time left to enjoy their day and if that is the case, tourists will not come here anymore. If you really need to close down the bridge, do it after the summer season so that our business will not suffer too much. We have employees to think of and our employees have families and children to tend,” said representatives from MOCCI.
“If you need to demolish the existing bridge for the construction of a new one, you have to provide an alternative for us because the bridge’s closure will certainly create traffic and congestion plus the downbeat to the tourism industry. The contractor and SBMA can provide a bailey bridge to temporarily accommodate motorists and pedestrians until the new bridge is finished,” Mayor James “Bong” Gordon, who mediated on the meeting, told Bakuteza.
Meanwhile , Col. Joe Aquino , head of Olongapo City Office of Traffic Management and Public Safety (OTMPS), accounted that the closure of Kalaklan Lighthouse Bridge will lead to no less than 2,500 additional vehicles passing thru Olongapo’s streets and will also adversely affect several thousands of pedestrians who walk thru the bridge every day.
“The closure of Kalaklan Lighthouse Bridge means that we have to go around the city to reach the James Gordon Hospital. In times of medical emergencies, a heart-attack victim would be dead already before reaching the hospital since traveling time from the outskirts to the city proper is bound to increase,” said an ex-pat residing in Bgy. Barretto, the city’s beach capital.
To convey the predicament of affected sectors and the city government’s concerns, Mayor James “Bong” Gordon Jr. sent a letter addressed to SBMA administrator Armand Arreza, a day after the meeting, which proposes the following schemes to mitigate the possible effects of the closure of Kalaklan Lighthouse bridge such as the construction of a bailey bridge to be used by pedestrians and motorists during the entire construction period or to reinforce the existing bridge to make the existing bridge safe and passable until the new bridge is constructed.
“We are not opposing the construction of a new bridge per se, what we are contesting is the untimely closure of the existing bridge. There must be a proper coordination with the City of Olongapo in this issue, because we will be the ones facing the wrath of the public when traffic starts to build up in the city’s major roads,” said Olongapo City Administrator Ferdie Magrata.
“It doesn’t make sense. Why close the bridge immediately when light vehicles can still safely pass? Why appropriate the old bridge for the contractor’s use instead of the general public? If it is a choice between the interests of the public and the convenience of the contractor, we expect SBMA to side with the public,” said Vic Vizcocho, Olongapo City Public Affairs Officer.
It can be recalled that over a year earlier, the SBMA has also closed down the Main Gate bridge connecting R.M. Drive in Olongapo and SBFZ to motorists, re-routing vehicles to and from Olongapo and Zambales to 3 remaining entry and exit points: the 1st Gate fronting Rizal Ave. connected by the Asinan Bridge, 14th st. Gate and the Kalaklan Gate, which leads to the current object of controversy.
Should the Kalaklan Lighthouse Bridge be closed without an agreed solution that would be beneficial to all concerned, the closure will not only lead to traffic mishaps but will definitely affect the business peak seasons of resort-hotel owners in Barretto and in neighboring towns in Zambales, as well .