5th March 2000
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The road not taken

Point of view

By Surath Wickramasinghe
The current trace of the Colombo/Katunayake Expressway was selected by the RDA, BOI BII with the primary intention of having the most economical expressway to Colombo with minimum demolition of houses and damage to property, environment etc. Despite this objective, according to the recent statements of the relevant Authorities, 300 permanent and 300 temporary houses will be demolished.

It is tragic that this road trace was selected without analysing the fullest range of alternatives, conducting proper traffic surveys, technical, environmental, financial and economic feasibility studies pertaining to same. Even today few are aware of what the actual cost of the project is.

The RDA proposal for the expressway along the lagoon would be a sandfilled embankment approximately 4 metres in height allowing for boats to pass through at selected points. The sandfill will be pumped from the sea bed. This embankment will be a visual barrier blocking the view of the lagoon completely from the land side.

The approximate cost of the Colombo/Katunayake Expressway may be around Rs. 9 billion. This investment is to be guaranteed by the Sri Lankan Government to the foreign contractor who undertakes the project on a Design Build Turnkey basis.

This investment is most unlikely to be recovered. Recent traffic surveys have been done by several independent organisations and their findings do not justify this colossal expenditure on a project.

There are several alternatives that could have been considered.

1. To expand the existing Colombo/Negombo road.

2. To have over-head fly-overs or by-passes at the junctions of Peliyagoda, Wattala, Kandana and Ja-Ela on the Colombo/Negombo road.

3. Elevated expressway over the existing railway line.

The advantages of the elevated expressway are that there would be no demolition of houses, dislocation of population or acquisition of land as the land reservations are already done. There would also be minimum damage to environment and the work could commence almost immediately. The Airport, Free Trade Zone Industries and Housing Developments are all located to the east of the railway line.

Furthermore, bus and rail transportation would be inter-linked and integrated with commercial activities and urban development. This way comprehensive town centre development will take place and will benefit the public in the local areas and urban sprawl will be avoided.

Consequently regional development could take place in a constructive manner. Links to the fast developing satellite towns of Gampaha, Negombo, Ekala and other centres could have had easy access to the elevated expressway, permitting enhanced speedy accessibility for commuting.

There are other benefits if the Colombo/Katunayake elevated expressway is constructed above the railway line or on a similar road race. Approximately a million containers presently located in the precincts of the Port of Colombo could be transferred to container yards alongside the Colombo/Katunayake expressway and value added enterprises or similar projects could take place as in Holland and other European countries.

The container transhipping could be further increased by nearly one million taking the space in the port that had been made available by the relocation of containers.

The constant use of the expressway by container traffic will generate an enormous amount of income which would justify the construction being undertaken on a BOO-BOT basis with Government participation confined to the land. After a period of time the government will own the expressway.

The elevated expressway will be an enormous boost to the investors visiting Sri Lanka as they will be able to see and be inspired by the industrial, housing, commercial development etc. on their way to Colombo.

If the expressway is constructed along the Negombo Lagoon and Muthurajawela sanctuary it would cause devastating consequences to the extremely vulnerable environment and ecologically sensitive habitat. The migrating fauna will also be affected. Muthurajawela has been designated as a conservation area under the Ramsar Convention.

The cost of the intersection from the Colombo/Negombo road to the proposed expressway would also be a substantial investment and will cause problems at the intersections.

At present, Peliyagoda and Wattala are experiencing flooding. If this expressway becomes a barrier it would affect the east west flow of water freely and cause more flooding.

What is sensational is that the proposed Colombo/Katunayake Expressway extends from Peliyagoda to Katunayake. If this is the case the traffic that will build up around Peliyagoda to get access to Colombo through the existing bridges and vice versa will be enormous and will further aggravate the traffic problem to uncontrollable dimensions.

Meanwhile, it is tragic that few institutions have been concerned about the effects of this disastrous project as currently envisaged. Politicians from both major parties have been extremely silent. I believe that it is still not too late to take the correct and most beneficial decision for the country.

Therefore a solution to this problem has to be found.

The Southern Highway from Matara terminates at Kottawa and links to the Outer Circular Road. The OECF funds have been allocated for the proposed Outer Circular Road from Kottawa via Athurugiriya, Biyagama up to Kadawatha. An additional extension of approximately 8 kilometres has been introduced up to west of Welisara to link with the Colombo/Katunayake Expressway also funded by the OECF.

An alternative concept would be if the Outer Circular Road is extended to a point south of Ragama Station and an elevated expressway is constructed over the railway lines going north to Katunayake and the same elevated expressway is extended to the south to Colombo. This concept will involve a new bridge across the Kelani River to accommodate both the railway and the elevated expressway. Access to the port and thereafter extending the expressway to the South at least up to Panadura, is necessary with traffic intersections at key centres. This proposal could be technically, financially and economically viable.

The total distance of the expressway would be approximately 24 kilometres between Colombo and Katunayake. The funding could be on a similar basis to the present tender being negotiated by the BOI or alternatively the OECF could be requested to fund the distance from Ragama to Katunayake which is approximately 12 kilometres, and the Ragama to Colombo on a BOO/BOT basis.

On the other hand if the Japanese Government could be requested to re-activate the Colombo/Katunayake Expressway, the offer which has been under consideration for the past 10 years, the Sri Lanka Government funds estimated at Rs. 9 billion would not be required.

In accordance with the bid documents issued for the prevailing tender for the Colombo/Katunayake Expressway the successful bidder is free to submit the most viable and feasible design for the linkage between Colombo and Katunayake within the proposed road trace. However if the selected contractor within the tender parameters is offered the freedom to consider the alternative concept as a measure of compliance with the CMRSP proposals now known and also to effect savings on the total cost, then there will not be a delay to the ongoing processes for the award of the project for the submission of the detailed design.

The proposal contained within the concept outlined here also concurrently supports the Colombo Metropolitan Regional Structure Plan (CMRSP) proposals approved by the Inter Ministerial Council and now under implementation. Accordingly the towns north of Colombo will have access through exit ramps to the expressway giving impetus to the development of the CMR. The local urban centres and transport systems will be integrated enabling the spatial distribution to be in conformity with CMRSP.

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