Highway to the future
The Southern Expressway, likely to be opened before year-end, will be
a completely new experience for Sri Lankan motorists.
They would be able to drive at a top speed of around 100 Km/h on this
world-class expressway, which initially links Colombo and Galle. Plans
are afoot to extend it to Matara and Hambantota by 2013.
There are several aspects and issues which should be considered even
as the authorities prepare for the opening of this toll road, the first
in the country. Some fundamental issues have to be addressed by the
authorities. These include speed limit(s), toll pricing, traffic control
and law enforcement aspects, the placement of fuel stations/rest stops
and the types of vehicles which can use the expressway.
We are certain that our road engineers and police officials would
have studied similar expressways in other countries and tailored
solutions for these issues in line with local conditions and
There should also be telephone facilities on the hard shoulder for
contacting the emergency services and Police in case of accidents or
breakdowns. Proper signage, signalling and lighting are also important
and from the pictures we have already seen, the authorities have got it
Another suggestion worth considering is the erection of electronic
message boards at key places which can alert motorists, possibly in all
three languages, on traffic diversions, weather conditions and other
It is commendable that the Transport Minister has already disclosed
plans to commence super luxury bus services on the expressway. Since
these buses will obviously have to pay the toll (as far as we know),
ticket prices are likely to be slightly higher than what is charged by
super luxury buses on the 'old' Galle Road. This issue too has to be
addressed by transport authorities.
The passengers will also have to be apprised of where they can get
down midway and where they cannot, until the bus reaches Galle. Indeed,
it will help immensely if the authorities publicise a graphic/map of the
expressway before it opens in print and electronic media, for the
benefit of motorists.
This should clearly indicate the toll booth positions (at both ends
and at any point midway), exits and entrances (to and from cities en
route), emergency facilities, fuel and rest stations.
The motorists will then have a clear idea about the workings of the
expressway. This should suffice at least until the expressway becomes a
familiar option to most motorists.
But there is a lot more that motorists will have to do to prepare for
the expressway experience. Indeed, at least one car importer/distributor
has been running advertisements in this regard. It really does matter,
because apart from the comparatively few Sri Lankans who have driven on
expressways abroad, it will be a new experience, almost an adventure,
for all others.
The first question is, can you handle the speed? It is vital that
only experienced drivers take the wheel when one is required to drive
around 100 Km/h for long stretches. Novice drivers should try to keep
away from the expressway, at least until it becomes part of our driving
psyche. Drivers should also ask themselves a few questions before
embarking on a journey on the expressway. Am I fit to drive? Can I
concentrate properly on the road (and the task) ahead? Discipline is a
vital asset for driving on any road and it is even more important on an
expressway. Unfortunately, that is sorely lacking on our roads.
Undisciplined drivers are a recipe for disaster on a freeway. Lane
discipline is most crucial kind of road discipline on an expressway. Can
you imagine the consequences of changing lanes without signaling at 100
Km/h ? The cardinal rule on an expressway is that the lane nearest to
the dividing kerb (far right) is reserved for the vehicles being driven
at the highest speed. The lane nearest to the hard shoulder is for the
If you have to change lanes for whatever reason, give ample time and
warning for the vehicles following you. That is a must. All drivers must
address safety concerns on the expressway. Wearing seatbelts is
essential at these speeds and Police must be commended for enforcing the
seat belt rule from October, in anticipation of the opening of the
All passengers, not just the front ones, should buckle up. Children
should be seated in the rear seat, the youngest ones in ISOFIX seats if
All drivers should check the mechanical condition of their vehicles.
They should check the brakes, radiator coolant, water and engine oil
levels, windscreen visibility and washer level, wipers, tyre pressure
and tread (including the spare), signals, horn, lights (including
indicator lights), battery charge and level, mirrors, toolset, fuel
level and a host of other factors before driving on to the toll booth.
Your vehicle may have a latest KQ number plate, but it does not mean
that you can forego these checks.
It pays to be safe, rather than sorry. This is not something that the
authorities can enforce per se. It us up to individuals motorists to
ensure that their vehicles are 100 per cent suitable for a 100 Km/h
sprint for around two hours.
We see many belching, derelict vehicles which may not meet these
criteria on our roads and they must be kept away from the expressway
until they can meet the minimum safety standards. Perhaps, during the
initial stages of operation, the authorities can place knowledgeable
personnel who can advice motorists on these aspects at toll booths.
This expressway, being the launching pad for expressways in Sri
Lanka, will act as a 'role model' for the operation of other such
roadways still in the planning or construction stage.
The success or failure of various aspects of its operation will be
invaluable for road and urban planners designing these expressways
including the Colombo-Katunayake and Colombo-Kandy expressways. Both the
authorities and motorists have a role to play in ensuring the successful
operation of the country's first-ever toll road, a precious asset.