04 February 2010

SBMA: Delay in bridge project will hurt businesses more

Delaying the construction of a bridge connecting this free port to the neighboring city of Olongapo will be more damaging to local business establishments than if the project were not implemented right away.

This was clarified by Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) administrator Armand Arreza after local businessmen proposed that the Kalaklan bridge project be re-scheduled to allow businesses to cash in on the peak tourism season this summer.

The SBMA said earlier it will close the bridge this month to make way for the construction of a P200-million replacement with a covered walkway.

According to Arreza, building a new bridge to replace the crucial Kalaklan span that leads to the Zambales highway, would only take a year.

“Hence, losing out on the tourism peak season this summer would not be too much of a sacrifice,” he said. “If you delay the project, however, you’d lose out on both the Christmas season and the summer season next year.”

Arreza issued this statement after members of the Metro-Olongapo Chamber of Commerce Inc. (MOCCI) expressed fear that closing the Kalaklan bridge would disrupt business activities in the city and lead to losses among local business establishments.

They pointed out that most of the visitors in the summer months are day tourists, who would lose much time going around the area due to the anticipated heavy volume of traffic during the bridge construction.

“If the average traveling time from Manila to Subic is four hours, and another four hours would have to be spent going back, visitors will have no more time left to enjoy their day here. If that is the case, tourists will not come here anymore,” MOCCI members said in a recent dialogue with the SBMA.

“If you really need to close down the bridge, do it after the summer season,” the Olongapo businessmen suggested.

However, Arreza said the project has to be implemented as scheduled because the bridge, which is about 50 years old, has already developed cracks and has been determined to be “structurally weakened.”

The construction of a new bridge in Kalaklan will also jumpstart the SBMA program to expand the physical boundaries of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, and extend the development to nearby communities, he added.

According to Joselito Bakuteza, head of SBMA PMO, about 2,500 light vehicles and some 300 pedestrians, mostly workers, pass through the Kalaklan bridge everyday.

He admitted that when the bridge closes to all vehicles and pedestrians starting February 15 and March 1, respectively, the re-routing to Olongapo “will cause temporary heavy traffic in some main roads of the city, as well as inside the Freeport, especially during rush hours.”

However, Bakuteza pointed out that the public may still use the free port gates at Rizal Avenue and 14th Street to prevent traffic build-up.

Earlier, Olongapo City mayor James Gordon Jr. said the city government will put into effect a truck ban from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m and from 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m from Monday to Friday to help ease the traffic problem during the bridge closure.

The city will also declare the busy 14th Street as a tow-away zone to prevent gridlock at the alternative route to the Subic Bay Freeport, Gordon added. (SBMA Corporate Communications)