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Travel time from Colombo-Matara to be reduced:

Highway to the future opens in July



A stretch of the completed highway

Work in progress

A section of the highway


P. H. Premasiri

Sri Lanka will move a step closer to becoming the "Wonder of Asia" during the last week of July when the country's first toll highway opens from Colombo to Galle.

Over 85 percent of the construction of this mammoth development project, which cost Rs. 100 billion, has now been completed. "We are confident that we can open the first stage by the end of July," said Chairman Southern Transport Development Project (STDP) P. H. Premasiri.

The highway from Colombo would start from Kottawa and end at Pinnaduwa, Galle covering a distance of 100 kilometres.

"When completed, it will reduce the time taken to travel from Colombo to Matara to one and a half hours from the current four hours," he said. A motorist would be able to travel to Galle in one hour.

The third stage of the project would connect the highway with the proposed Hambantota International Airport and the harbour. This would extend the highway by another 100 km (62 miles). A person travelling from the new airport in Hambantota would reach Colombo in two and a half hours.

The Asian Development Bank and the Japan International Corporation Agency are providing financial assistance for the express highway project, while the Government too is pumping finances for this project. The highway is expected to be completed in 2013.

One of the main reasons for the project delay was the relocation of families and providing them with alternative land. Even legal action had been initiated by some families which delayed the preliminary stage of this construction.

These families were subsequently provided with alternative land and the compensation paid to them was over Rs. 4.6 billion.

Environmental aspects were also a matter for concern and several meaningful steps were taken in this regard as well. "More culverts and mini bridges were built to ensure that the expressway would not create a flood situation in the area," Premasiri said.

The highway would have several access points. Residents of Colombo, Kotte and Dehiwela could use the first access point in Makumbura.

The Kahathuduwa entry point would be for motorists using the 120 bus route and those from Moratuwa.

The third exit point is from Galanigama and this would be beneficial for drivers in Panadura and Wadduwa.

Vehicles joining from Panadura and Wadduwa should take the interchange at Galanigama while traffic from Kalutara and Mathugama could join the expressway from Dodangoda. The fifth entry point is from Lewanduwa for the Beruwela, Aluthgama and Bentota area. One of the most picturesque interchanges is at Kurundugaha Hatakma and this is to cater to the traffic from Elpitiya and Ambalangoda.

Tourists to Hikkaduwa could use the Nayapamula interchange. With the Colombo-Katunayake expressway to be completed next year, a passenger from the airport could come to Hikkaduwa in less than one and a half hours. Pinnaduwa is the eighth interchange and is the link to Galle. A new 6km access road to Galle has already been built."Each of these points would have toll collecting centres which may be an alien concept to Sri Lanka. We are yet to decide on a toll fee. However, we have decided to charge more from containers and have decided to ban three-wheelers, motorcycles and tractors from using it," he said.

The area near the interchanges would soon be converted to mini town-ships with restaurants, hotels and shops being put up by the private sector. "New employment opportunities too would emerge for the residents of the area, increasing their cash flow," Premasiri said.

Land values too would rise in these areas, letting the benefits of development trickle down to the villages as well. A dedicated expressway patrol team would be deployed to check its safety and monitor the traffic. Emergency exit points would be available every five kilometres in case of an accident and the subsequent evacuation.

Ambulances and special police teams too would be available round the clock. Special lighting would be available for the night and a back-up system too is in place. Over 200 people are expected to work in the highway. Two big bridges of 700 and 500 metres were being built across Bentara and Kalu Ganga in Kalutara.

Provisions have also been made to expand the present four lanes to six.

In addition to cutting down the travel time to Galle and bringing it even closer to the city of Colombo, the heavy traffic in the Galle road would be reduced by almost 40 percent during peak hours. "This would also save considerable fuel to the nation," he said.

The highway, most importantly, would add one of the most 'wanted' pieces of infrastructure to the country.

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