Central Expressway: Harbinger of prosperity to the hinterland | Daily News

Central Expressway: Harbinger of prosperity to the hinterland

There is a saying that the reflection of development of a country is its system of roads. It is essential to have a developed system of roadways as a decisive factor in the development of the country. A special factor is that under the programme to construct and renovate roads in every province of Sri Lanka, roadways are being constructed and renovated in areas of the North and East which were destroyed due to the war against terrorism. Construction and completion of renovation of a large number of roads under the Highways sector is actually an amazing fact when considering Sri Lankan history regarding road development.

At this moment of time, new roads are being built and others being renovated throughout the country at an unimaginable pace. There is a deep value embedded in this process which is visible physically in the development process which includes creating and repairing these roads and bridges. As a nation, we should be sensitive towards that deep reality. Unlike ever before, today there is pride and stature being created regarding the nation. A permanent policy which is nourished by nationalism for a development process, is being created. Through the excellent qualities we have witnessed through recent history, as the foundation of the country’s development programme, the system of roadways is being constructed properly according to proper planning.

That is why this road development programme is simply not about tarring a road, concreting a road, building an expressway or constructing a bridge or culvert. Our article about road development is being rolled out through the boundless pleasure that arises by seeing the system of roads that is being created in our country through a nation that is being reborn with excellent stature which are signs of future prosperity. Although we experienced this prior to the year 2015, the new reawakening of road development as we can see now, it should be noted, did not take place within the period 2015–2019. As of today, the task of constructing expressways, highways, bridges and a number of flyovers is being successfully completed.

That is as a result of the current President’s development policy, ‘Saubaghyaye Dekma’ which is an excellent effort. Apart from roads and bridges that are being newly constructed, renovating roadways and developing rural roads is in operation now, true to its meaning. The people living in Sri Lanka simply expect systems of roadways and railways which are spread out systematically which would help them avoid inconveniences they have to face during travel.

People of various social strata who are crushed in crowded buses morning and evening expect public bus and train services in which they can travel in considerable comfort. We observed the fact that owners of vehicles who expect to save the valuable time they spend on roads due to traffic congestion also need a reasonable solution. Our objective is to let you know through a brief write up, how the system of expressways which is being constructed across Sri Lanka at present will spread out in the upcoming years.

The Kandy road is a road that invariably faces traffic congestion. Sometimes it extends from Kaduwela to Belummahara. During weekdays, this congestion is apparent in the city of Kegalle. Due to these reasons, it takes more than three hours to travel from Colombo to Kandy which is located 115 kilometres away. The then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the year 2014, laid the foundation stone for commencing construction work on the Central Expressway which was proposed in 2002, as a solution to this problem. The Southern Expressway which was completed in the year 2011 is presently known as the Dakshina Expressway. The reason for this is because through the North Central Province there is the possibility of accessing the Northern Province directly. The Uththara Expressway will without a doubt provide relief to the people of Sri Lanka, by enabling facilities to reach the city of Kandy in a short period of about two hours.

It is nine years as of today, since the expressway culture was introduced to this country. The money earned through the expressways already constructed exceeds Rs. 40 billion. Now it is no secret that due to the system of expressways, apart from economic benefits, more benefits have been reaped through other fields as well. With the ending of terrorism in the year 2009, the country was subjected to a massive development programme. The dream of an expressway for us Sri Lankans who had only seen an expressway abroad became a reality in the year 2011. The section of the expressway from Kottawa to Galle, Pinnaduwa, was declared open on November 27 that year. A sum of Rs. 70 billion on this amazing access was spent by the government and it was in the midst of various complaints and accusations that this expressway was constructed. The commitment of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa was outstanding in this giant development.

Not stopping there, construction of several more roads commenced connecting the country to one network of expressways. The Colombo–Katunayake highway, Colombo Outer Circular Road, Up Country and Northern expressways were among these. Another project was the extension of the Southern Expressway. Accordingly, this project which was named as the ‘Northern Expressway Project’, based on initial planning, was identified as a project of priority by the government of Sri Lanka and later named as the ‘Central Expressway Project’ and implemented.

According to the national roadway plan this project during its first phase targeted construction and development of travel facilities from the main city of Colombo in the Western Province to the capital city of the Central Province, Kandy and was to be extended to the city of Dambulla which is of historical value and economic importance. This is an expressway consisting of interchange centres which are controlled through access roads. This is being implemented, mainly under four stages. The first being – from Kadawatha to Meerigama (37 km), the second – Meerigama to Kurunegala (40.91 km), the third from Pothuhera to Galagedera (32.5km) and the final and fourth stage from Kurunegala to Dambulla (60.3 km).

Accordingly, construction of every stage is being implemented at present and the section of 36.5 km from Kadawatha to Meerigama is being carried out since September 15. The amount estimated for this section was Rs. 158.5 billion and 15 percent of this amount has been allocated by the Treasury while 85 percent has been given by China Exim Bank, Project Director Kodituwakku said. Construction is being carried out by the company Metrological China Corporation. The second phase from Meerigama to Kurunegala of 40.91 km has been estimated to cost Rs. 137 billion and that section too is nearing completion as of now. Project Director K.H.M.A.K. Kehelella said that 82 percent of the overall project has been completed by now. This project which commenced in the year 2017 was due to have been completed in July of 2019 but due to certain reasons it was not completed and he said that he believes that this stage could be finished in another two months’ time.

He pointed out further that by now, acquiring of lands is underway and that work on this phase will be carried out with loans from local banks. In addition, it has been estimated that the construction of the section from Pothuhera to Kurunegala will cost Rs. 143 billion and it has already commenced. It is of significance that the project implementation has been expedited according to instructions given by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Due to expressways which give an optimum value to the valuable time of the people, we are enjoying a number of other immeasurable benefits. People who have gratitude say that the benefits that the expressways culture, which was introduced to people in the year 2011 amidst challenges and insults, achieved is invaluable. When considering, especially the second phase of this project, the path of the proposed construction of the expressway travels mainly through empty barren lands, avoiding urban areas so that the environmental and social impact is minimized. This expressway consists of four lanes and is being operated with access and counters for payment at Meerigama, Nakalagamuwa, Dambokka and Kurunegala which are four interchanges.

In addition, vehicles which will travel on the Pothuhera System Interchange, where construction of the third phase of the Central Expressway is underway, will be provided with facilities to transfer towards Kandy, Kurunegala and Colombo. There are 12 large bridges that are positioned above the expressway together with 42 areas which exist above and below the expressway as well as 130 culverts and when considering the total, the expressway runs on 9,938 metres of concrete pillars which comprises 36 sections and is a massive development project. All of these projects overall are scheduled to be completed during the upcoming four years.

This expressway has on either side shoulders of 2.5 metres and the central strip is 2.0 metres wide and comprises four lanes of 3.6 metres each in width. Where necessary, weak areas have been strengthened with foundations and fetters and the road will be finished by laying stones and tar. Road signs, Markings and Sign boards will be set up according to international standards as required and adequate lighting will be provided at interchange centres. Construction is being carried out with the objective of travelling at a maximum speed of 100 kilometres per hour and creating comfort, speed and protection. The interchange centres have been built incorporating both manual and automatic charging windows.

Meanwhile, the government has taken steps to acquire lands in a transparent manner for the construction of the expressway and to pay a high estimate for them. According to Act No. 09 of 1950 regarding Acquiring of Lands (Chapter 460), acquiring of relevant lands by the Road Development Authority to construct expressways is being carried out by the seven Divisional Secretariat offices in Meerigama, Alawwa, Narammala, Polgahawela, Weerabugedera, Kurunegala and Mallawapitiya. Also, statutory compensation to be paid on behalf of lands intended to be acquired will be determined through the initial plan of the Government Survey Department and based on the final village map according to the estimates of the Evaluation Department.

A total of 4,038 plots of private land were acquired through this and including government lands 4,841 plots of land have been acquired for construction of this expressway. A sum of Rs. 7,192 million has been paid for 3,614 plots of private land as compensation. However, it was revealed in Parliament by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) recently that a number of irregularities had occurred in the construction of the Central Expressway. It was confirmed on this occasion that a sum of more than Rs. 1.7 billion had been spent only on the feasibility study of this expressway. It was also revealed that as a result of construction of the section of the expressway from Kadawatha to Meerigama being delayed from 2015 to 2019, a financial loss of Rs. 8 billion had been incurred.

The company SMEC was selected for the first feasibility study sans any procurement procedure and the project which was under three stages in 2012 as the Northern Expressway had been changed by the year 2015 as the Central Expressway consisting of four stages. Accordingly, it has been revealed that a number of irregularities in relation to the project had taken place during the period 2015–2019. During the era of the past government of ‘good governance’ instead of carrying out development work in the country, the method that was implemented was to halt development projects that were initiated during the time Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President and engaging in political revenge and nothing else which is extremely clear.

The roadways, railways, port and airport which give rise to development and are continuing to be constructed in the face of political, commercial and climatic transformations taking place in this country at present testify to the fact that Sri Lanka is a pioneer of a lengthy journey as a developing country. Accordingly, there is no doubt that this chain of development will be useful in building cooperation between various races living in various areas within this wonderful island known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.