NLEX Corp. is targeting to complete the P1.6-billion Subic Freeport Expressway (SFEx) capacity expansion project by September next year.

The company started “full blast” work on the enhancements yesterday, with a groundbreaking ceremony in Subic, Zambales joined by officials from NLEX Corp. and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). Sta. Clara International Corp. has been tapped as the project contractor.

The SFEx capacity expansion project involves the construction of two additional lanes, two new bridges at Jadjad and Argonaut, and a new tunnel on the 8.2-kilometer toll road.

“We at MPTC (Metro Pacific Tollways Corp.) and NLEX Corp. believe that one of the key drivers of economic growth is the network of high quality roads,” NLEX Corp. President Luigi L. Bautista said in his speech at the ceremony.

“By increasing the road capacity of SFEx…the transport of goods in and out of the Subic Freeport will be faster and simpler,” he added.

Subic is home to the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, a special economic zone that facilitates trade in the Central and North Luzon through shipping.

SBMA Chairman Wilma T. Eisma said aside from helping the smooth flow of goods in and out of the province, the SFEx expansion is expected to make Subic a more viable tourist and investment destination because of improved connectivity.

“I could guarantee you that there will be an increase, not just in investors, but (also in) tourism. Because connectivity is really important for mobility of people. As companies continue to come in, it is very important for us to grow Subic as a tourism destination for Filipinos and foreigners alike,” she said.

NLEX Corp. said it will also improve the existing SFEx by adding LED lights and enhancing its drainage system to address flooding in the area.

NLEX Corp. is under MPTC, the tollways unit of Metro Pacific Investments Corp., one of three key Philippine units of Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd., the others being Philex Mining Corp. and PLDT, Inc.

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a majority stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Denise A. Valdez