As someone who has spent most of his time in Manila’s Santa Mesa district and has come to know the neighborhood all too well, I would never have imagined that this day would come.
But that day has come, unfortunately.
After 70-some years the old Ramon Magsaysay Flyover, Manila’s first flyover, bids farewell to the Manila cityscape. At this time of writing, the bridge is undergoing demolition in phases as traffic in some parts is being rerouted either to the service road alongside it or to one of the lanes yet to be demolished.
As someone who has seen and written about places in the metropolis that have long since gone, it should be something I should get used to. But as I mentioned, this landmark has defined my experience living in Santa Mesa, as well as countless others who have lived in the area or even having passed by there over the years. While its look was not as iconic as the Jones Bridge or as massive as the Magallanes Flyover, the Magsaysay Bridge served its purpose of facilitating an almost-unhindered flow of traffic without being hampered by the trains passing across its path.
But as the metropolis continues to grow and there is a greater need to address the growing traffic congestion, the decision was made by the Department of Public Works and Highways to demolish the structure to give way to new infrastructure projects that will utilize this area.
So what are these infrastructure projects that deemed the demolition of the Ramon Magsaysay Flyover? There are two of them that are being planned in fact.
The NLEX-SLEX Connector Road
The most immediate reason that warranted the demolition of the flyover is the ongoing construction of the elevated road project that is the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road.
But why the need for another elevated connection between NLEX and SLEX when the Skyway is already serving that purpose? For one, actually, the name is somewhat a misnomer as this serves to specifically connect the NLEX Harbor Link Expressway in Caloocan to the Skyway in Pandacan. Which brings to the second and probably main point as to why this project exists: to serve a more direct link between the Manila harbors (served by the Harbor Link Expressway) and South Luzon via Skyway.
There’s of course a business perspective to it as the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road project is Metro Pacific Tollways’ (the project’s proponent BTW) answer to San Miguel Corporation and its backing of the Skyway project. In fact, both the Skyway and Connector Road projects were competing against each other in the bid to link North Luzon and South Luzon Expressways until the government decided to greenlight both instead.
The connector road primarily follows the right of way of the existing rail network of the Philippine National Railways (PNR), specifically the right of way from Caloocan (where part of the Harbor Link Expressway follows as well up to south Valenzuela where the expressway turns right) to Pandacan, which meant that the road will intersect with Magsaysay Boulevard. There is going to be a planned exit at Magsaysay Boulevard (one of the four planned throughout the length of the connector road) which meant the Ramon Magsaysay Flyover had to go to accommodate the exits to be built.
But there is another project that has yet to start which is set to make the look of this part of the city more complex
The North-South Commuter Railway
If an elevated expressway in Santa Mesa is not enough, there is also a railway project in the works. This comes in the form of the North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) project which ultimately will connect New Clark City in Tarlac to Calamba in Laguna, using mostly the former and current railway network used by the PNR.
One may think that this particular project will be an upgraded version of the current PNR service. And while the Philippine National Railways is involved in the project, the truth is the NSCR is a new and separate thing altogether from the existing PNR service. This means that while the NSCR will use the existing right of way of the PNR, there will be new rail tracks that will be built for the service. In fact, the NSCR tracks are elevated rail tracks similar to the tracks used by the current metro lines here. That also means there will be new stations to be built for the NSCR, with one being planned for Santa Mesa, right at the existing PNR station there.
Since we’ve established that the NSCR is actually different from the current PNR service, the question now is: what will happen to the PNR service once the NSCR is completed? Many might think the old PNR service will be gone when that happens. But in truth, it will not be going anywhere. In fact, the PNR service will still operate alongside the NSCR albeit it might become more of a cargo service rather than a commuter one since NSCR will take over the commuter side of the operation.
The future (convoluted?) Santa Mesa landscape and some questions
So we are now looking at two elevated infrastructure projects, side by side, passing through Ramon Magsaysay Boulevard and the old flyover. But with all these exciting developments in the future (the Urban Roamer is especially excited for NSCR), one has to wonder all this is going to look once they’re all completed, especially considering the existing infrastructure in the area.
We have already established that the PNR service is going to stay. More so, the current Line 2 that plies along Magsaysay Boulevard is not going anywhere as well. So how will these current and upcomiing projects navigate the existing infrasture there, especially once the Ramon Magsaysay Flyover is completely demolished? There are a lot of questions that have to be addressed:
- How will engineers tackle the flyover’s center island if that is where Line 2’s pillars are located? Will the center island retain the shape of the old flyover or are they going to redesign it?
- How will the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road project ensure that it will accommodate the NSCR project in the area, especially given the fact that the NSCR works there have yet to begin at this time of writing?
- How will the PNR service be affected by the NSCR works once the latter commences in the area considering that its operations will clash with the NSCR works?
- How will both projects ensure they will not disrupt the operations of Line 2?
One interesting to note is that the Connector Road works are going to be done beneath the right of way of Line 2 but all indications suggest that NSCR’s works will be done above Line 2, which some might see concerning as it may disrupt Line 2’s operations. Let’s hope not.
Game-changer for Santa Mesa
As someone who has lived in Santa Mesa much of his life, seeing these developments unfold makes me feel sentimental that the Santa Mesa of old that I knew is disappearing more and more. But as an infrastructure enthusiast, I am excited to see these new developments rise as they will help in improving mobility which has been one of the nagging problems in this metropolis. However, as an advocate of liveable urban environments, there is a sense of trepidation in me, fearing that these infrastructure projects might worsen the urban blight that has already cost this metropolis much.
One thing’s for sure: these infrastructure projects have put Santa Mesa on a greater level of importance that it has never seen before and once completed, they will surely change the face of this part of the metropolis for good. The Urban Roamer will be keeping an eye on these developments and see how they will unfold. Hopefully for the better.