by Maria Andrea P. Bodaño
CALAMBA, LAGUNA—The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) revealed that they are coordinating with stakeholders in preparation for the first phase of the Laguna Lakeshore Road Network project at the western side of Laguna Lake.
The toll-free expressway is currently undergoing the Detailed Engineering Design phase. This involves finalizing the project’s features, such as the final number of lanes in the infrastructure.
As of April 2022, DPWH revealed that they have coordinated with stakeholders affected by the first phase to ensure the smooth progress of the Detailed Engineering Design phase.
Laguna Lake Development Authority Described as ‘Partner’
Engr. Eugene Bagay, the DPWH coordinator of the Laguna Lakeshore Road Network project, described the Laguna Lake Development Authority as a major partner in planning the implementation of the expressway’s construction on Laguna Lake.
LLDA was formed under Republic Act No. 4850 as a quasi-government agency. Its primary function is to oversee the processes of environmental protection and jurisdiction over Laguna Lake.
Since the feasibility study began in 2018, the agencies have held multiple coordination meetings. Engr. Bagay revealed that LLDA was more than willing to accommodate DPWH’s suggestions on implementing the project on Laguna Lake.
After signing a Memorandum of Agreement between DPWH Undersecretary Emil K. Sadain and LLDA General Manager Jaime C. Medina, the two agencies have been thoroughly discussing their current plans on Laguna Lake. Engr. Bagay said that LLDA fully supported the project.
“In addition, i-aassist pa nila kami when it comes to right of way especially doon sa lakeside.” Engr. Bagay shared. (In addition, they mentioned that they will assist us when it comes to the right of way especially at the part of the lakeside.)
DPWH and LLDA have been discussing the use of a ferry system on Laguna Lake. Engr. Bagay also said that they are exploring the integration of the road network with LLDA’s plans since both projects will be implemented in the same place.
DPWH in Close Coordination with LGUs and Other Stakeholders
As an Official Development Assistance-funded project under the Asian Development Bank, DPWH follows certain guidelines to ensure that no stakeholder will be left behind.
“We have discussion with all LGUs around the lake during the stakeholders meeting dated March 2019.” Engr. Bagay stated in a separate interview.
Currently, DPWH is in close coordination with LGUs that are most affected by the first phase of the road network. These areas include the city of Taguig, Muntinlupa, San Pedro, Biñan, Santa Rosa, Cabuyao, and Calamba. Engr. Bagay also noted that despite the difficulties to keep in touch due to the election season, they keep the LGUs posted on any significant developments on the project.
DPWH also held multiple stakeholder meetings and public hearings to maximize the opportunity of knowing the different concerns regarding the project. For instance, many citizens have been expressing their concerns on the infrastructure’s environmental impact.
“We are making sure din sa design namin na it’s either wala talaga magiging effect yung project namin when it comes to raising or lowering ng lake, or rather, kung meron naman siya maging effect—very minimal—negligible siya.” Engr. Bagay shared. (We are making sure that our design on the project would not give any effect when it comes to raising or lowering the lake, or rather, if in case it does have an effect—it would be very minimal—it would be negligible.)
DPWH’s study revealed that the infrastructure will only cause an increase of two to three millimeters of the height of water for the whole lake. “…Kaya sinasabi namin na very negligible yung magiging effect.” Engr. Bagay reiterates. (That is why we are saying that the effect will be negligible.)
The agency also consulted with the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (FARMCs) to ensure that the fisherfolk are included in the planning phase of the project.
Yet, Ronnel Arambulo, a fisherman of Laguna Lake and national spokesperson of the National Federation of Small Fisherfolk (PAMALAKAYA), insisted on pushing for more sustainable solutions instead of developing the road network.
“Ang mas gusto namin talaga eh magkaroon ng tunay na rehabilitasyon sa Laguna lake.” Arambulo stated in an interview. (What we want is to have genuine rehabilitation in Laguna Lake.)
Arambulo is worried that thousands of residents and fisherfolk residing around the lake will be displaced to make way for the project. He believes that the construction waste of the road network will further deteriorate the water quality of Laguna Lake, which could worsen the current problem on fish supply.
Road Network Aims for Resiliency, Not Just Traffic
According to the traffic studies conducted by DPWH, the South Luzon Expressway and Manila South Road are nearing their speed capacity limit.
“…Congested na yung SLEX at Manila South Road, hindi na niya kinakaya. Sooner or later, probably, five, ten years, and even for sure, twenty years from now, yung expressway natin na tinatawag, hindi na magiging ‘express’ yun.” (SLEX and Manila South Road is already congested; it is nearing its limit. Sooner or later, probably five, ten, and even for sure, twenty years from now, the ‘expressway’ we refer to will not be an ‘express’ anymore.)
Engr. Bagay stated that DPWH has decided to look for solutions now to prevent the situation from happening.
The Laguna Lakeshore Road Network project aims to ease traffic in the areas of Metro Manila and Calamba. The project would also allow easier access to the eastern part of Laguna Lake, which brings in opportunity for economic growth in the region.
Disaster preparedness and calamity resiliency is also an influential factor. In the interview, Engr. Bagay mentioned that since the West Valley Faultline is located between SLEX and Manila South Road, the connection from South to Manila may be severed in case a strong earthquake, especially the infamous Big One, strikes in the country. The project aims to provide an alternate route in case disaster strikes.
The improvement on traffic resilience may also help with the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Dr. Casper Agaton, an associate professor on environmental economics in the University of the Philippines Los Baños, mentioned that heavy traffic consumes more fuel; thus, decongesting it through a road network will decrease carbon emissions.
Agaton explained, “This means: the slower the traffic, more combustion of fuels for the same distance, more GHG emissions. If we build new road networks and expressways, this may result in faster traffic, less combustion of fuels for the same distance, and less GHG emissions.”
Alternatives for Traffic Decongestion
Agaton, who was also a post-doctoral researcher on sustainability and climate change, also shared alternatives to address traffic congestion. According to him, building mass transports such as trails and buses will be more sustainable and efficient as it releases lesser carbon emissions and is relatively less expensive compared to using private cars.
“In most developed countries, people prefer to use mass transport because it is less expensive; it’s time efficient and sustainable because it has less CO2 emissions than using cars. But for developing countries like the Philippines, we tend to use cars because it is more convenient and because we have less mass transport,” Agaton explained.
A study conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2018 found that using public transport produces 55% less GHG emissions per mile compared to driving alone or riding alone with a personal driver. Moreover, GHG emissions of private vehicle travel were still higher than the transit average on a per-passenger-mile basis.
Another alternative is using bodies of water as transport such as a ferry system, where traffic would be decentralized from roads.
Although these alternatives may effectively reduce traffic congestion, they may not be significantly sustainable. Agaton, who finished his PhD on Development Economics and International Development, said that as long as we are using fossil fuels, most transport systems will remain unsustainable. He recommends renewable energy as an alternative.
Road Network to Bring Livelihood Opportunities
“Again, part ulit ng pagiging ADB-funded project niya na nandadiyan yung idea na susuportahan namin yung mga mawawalan ng trabaho,” Engr. Bagay assured when it comes to concerns on how the project may affect the livelihood of people in the surrounding area. (Again, it is part of being an ADB-funded project that there is the idea of supporting those who will be affected in the temporary loss of livelihood.)
According to him, stakeholders affected by the project will be well-compensated. This includes monetary compensation for affected lots. Alternative livelihood opportunities such as construction work and new livelihood programs will be produced when the project takes place.
The first phase of the Laguna Lakeshore Road Network Project is set to begin for construction in 2023. DPWH is hoping that both phases are finished before 2030.