BIDDING SETBACK: Panay-Guimaras-Negros bridge work deals expected by year-end

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By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

The construction of the proposed Panay-Guimaras-Negros (PGN) Island Bridges Project in Western Visayas might start later than expected due to the failure of bidding for its detailed engineering design (DED).

Engr. Arecio A. Casing Jr., National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Region 6 director, said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will rebid the DED since the bid price exceeded the allocated loan proceeds and the DPWH’s original contract estimate.

“We were informed by the DPWH central office that they will rebid the (DED) procurement due to factors on the submission of the bidders. Apparently, it was higher than the contract loan amount from the bank,” he said in an interview.

Casing furthered that DPWH has already rescheduled a second bidding for the DED of the PGN bridge and they targeted the “notice of award and the notice to proceed by December 2023.”

Should the DED be awarded later this year, DPWH will still have two years to complete the entire DED process with the construction of the bridge expected to commence in 2025 and completed by 2030.

“As per schedule, the [DED] was planned to commence within this year so it will take two years to complete. If it gets awarded this year, we still have 2024 and 2025 to complete the detailed engineering design and 2025 is our target start for the bridge which will be completed by 2030, which is a 5-year construction period,” he noted.

Following the completion of the DED, the project will subsequently be approved by the NEDA Board and the Investment Coordination Committee for funding and actual implementation.

The DED includes an estimation of detailed construction cost, bridge design, a program of works, a feasibility study to pinpoint the exact geographic starting point of the project, and an assessment of underwater soil conditions.

It can be recalled that Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas sent a letter to DPWH on July 25, 2023, requesting the latest updates on the progress of the DED’s consulting services under the Economic Development Co-operation Fund (EDCF) Loan Agreement No. PHL-23.

In a letter response dated September 27, DPWH secretary Manuel Bonoan said  “the procurement of consulting services for the detailed engineering design and tender assistance of the Panay-Guimaras-Negros Island Bridges Project was declared a ‘failure of bidding’ dated Sept. 14, 2023.”

Bonoan explained that the failure of bidding stemmed from “the bid price substantially exceeding the loan proceeds portion and DPWH’s approved estimated project cost.”

The DPWH secretary said they recommended the immediate rebidding through a pre-procurement conference on September 15, emphasizing that the project is one of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s priorities under the Mega Bridge Program, a branch of the greater “Build Better More” infrastructure drive of his administration.

“We understand the importance and urgency of this project in Region 6 as it promises to revolutionize transportation and connectivity between the three islands, and we remain committed to its successful completion,” he said.

Bonoan furthered that the South Korean Government, through its Export-Import Bank of Korea (KEXIM), also concurred with the failure of the bidding and rebidding of the services.

In May 2022, the Korean and Philippine governments signed a loan agreement of $56.6 million, funded by KEXIM’s EDCF. The loan would be utilized for the engineering services of the PGN Bridge project, which would include the preliminary design and feasibility study review, detailed engineering design, and procurement assistance.

The DPWH also noted that the request for expression of interest from consultants was also advertised on September 19,  with the submission of pre-qualification documents scheduled for October 9.

“The award of the contract is scheduled for December 15, 2023. Hence, the project is expected to commence through a Notice to Proceed [for the DED] on December 27, 2023,” added Bonoan.

The PGN bridge, spanning a total of 32,474 meters or 32.47 kilometers, is divided into two sections: Section A, connecting Panay Island to Guimaras Island, and Section B, linking Guimaras Island to Negros Island.

Previous reports stated that the Korean government would supposedly finance the 13-kilometer Panay-Guimaras section only since the Guimaras-Negros section is longer at 19.47 kilometers and requires more funding.

Initial information revealed that Section A of the project would only cost about P58 billion, while Segment B would cost more than double or up to P120 billion.

The PGN bridge is expected to significantly reduce travel times between Panay Island and Guimaras, from 45 minutes to just 10 minutes, and between Guimaras and Negros, from 60 minutes to 15 minutes.

“[Benefits are] its connectivity, its better transport, its lower commute time for our people and for our products […] Imagine the people and the flow of goods… For those who want to visit Boracay, [it] can immediately connect the three islands,” said Casing.