The operator of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) plans to build a third highway alongside the two 5.3-kilometer viaducts crossing the Candaba swampland in Bulacan and Pampanga, a legislator from Central Luzon said.
NLEX officials revealed their plans on Tuesday during a consultative meeting organized by Deputy Speaker and Pampanga 3rd District Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr., who has called for the construction of new long bridges that would replace the 46-year-old viaducts due to safety concerns.
Gonzales said he was elated to hear of the operator’s intention to build a third viaduct or diversion bridge that would complement the two existing bridges, which are being repaired and retrofitted.
“The new road and the improvement of the present expressway will ensure the continued interconnectivity of Metro Manila and areas south of Luzon, on one hand, and central and northern Luzon, on the other,” he said.
He said aside from thousands of motorists and commuters, billions of pesos worth of goods are transported between the National Capital Region and central and Northern Luzon through NLEX, of which the long elevated bridges across the 30-meter deep Candaba swamps are a major part.
“So safety issues arising from the two viaducts’ age and their constant use and heavy load are a real concern. I am glad that the expressway operator is addressing these,” he added.
The Pampanga lawmaker, a civil engineer by profession, pointed out that he had foreseen such issues in 2016, when he told the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry that a new viaduct needed to be constructed.
NLEX Corp. officials led by lawyer Romulo Quimbo Jr. told the meeting that the third highway would be built between the two existing northbound and southbound viaducts.
The new road would be composed of six lanes and construction is scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2023 and completed toward the end of 2024, they said.
They said they would implement a traffic scheme that would avoid inconvenience and disruptions on the part of motorists and commuters.
They said the two viaducts are being repaired, improved and retrofitted so they would become “like new roadways.”
Quimbo said the plan is for the third highway to be used by cargo trucks and other heavy vehicles, while the existing spans would be limited to cars and lighter vehicles.
The operator would shoulder the estimated P8-billion cost of the new viaduct, he said.
Concerned government agencies like the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Transportation, National Economic and Development Authority, and Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) expressed support for the planned new roadway.
However, the construction and completion of the new bridge would mean an increase in toll fees, warned TRB officials.
Gonzales also appealed to the NLEX operator to help the DPWH improve at least five other bridges crossing the expressway, from Bulacan to Pampanga.
“These were built by the national government or local governments. They are not part of NLEX but they make access to the expressway easier and faster,” he said.