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Expressway to North in the backburner

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The Government last week said construction work of the expressway headed towards the North has been placed in the backburner and added that work would begin only after the completion of the Colombo-Kandy expressway.

Deputy Minister, Highways and Investment Promotion, Eran Wickremaratne speaking to The Nation Gain stated that the Government was yet to commence work on the Colombo-Kandy expressway and added that the segment of the expressway leading to the North would only commence after the completion of the former.

The Deputy Minister had earlier stated that there was no Northern Expressway and that there was only one project named the Central Expressway.

Wickremaratne’s remarks sparked confusion over the fate of the project with speculations rife that the project was scrapped.

Wickremaratne clarified that the project was previously named Northern Expressway was only on paper and it had not got off ground despite the previous regime handing out tenders without following proper procedures.

“The previously planned expressway was anyway connecting Kurunegala and Kandy and therefore, the Government decided to rename it as the Central Expressway,” he said.

Secretary to the Ministry, U.R. Seneviratne speaking to The Nation Gain said that the Government had requested funding assistance from agencies such as Asian Development bank (ADB), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and added discussions on funding would commence after April 20.

Seneviratne stated that the tenders for the project would only be called once the funding is sorted. He also added that a time frame for the completion of the Colombo-Kandy expressway could not be explained at the moments as it was still at the initial stages. 

“Nothing has been finalized as yet. We are currently focusing on the Colombo-Kandy expressway via Kurunegala. The funding agencies have also agreed to hold discussions and study the entire project,” he said.

The Northern Expressway project which was launched by the previous Government came under review by the current regime in order to look into the tender procedures followed.

Seneviratne explained that the companies who were given tenders by the previous government were to provide their performance bonds by end of January this year but had failed to do so. “Therefore, the tenders automatically get cancelled,” he said. He added that the entire project would now cost USD 3 billion.

“We cannot say that the Northern Expressway project has been scrapped. It is part of the Central Expressway. We will commence works depending on the funds. If the funds are inadequate, then we will push it further till we obtain funds. But it will not be scrapped,” he clarified.

He also stated that even though it was termed ‘Northern’, the expressway was not supposed go up to Jaffna. “That was not the idea. We intend to go beyond Kandy, up to Dambulla. However, we have not finalized anything as of now,” Seneviratne added.
The construction work begins at Kadawatha at the access point of the Outer Circular Highway and would link with Katugastota– Kurunegala – Puttalam (A10) road at Hedeniya and Kandy– Jaffna road (A9) at Katugastota.

Seneviratne pointed out that the Government is also in the process of getting the necessary documents such as the environmental impact assessment report sorted before commencing the project. “We have to sort out these issues first before starting work. Therefore, we are working on it accordingly,” Seneviratne added.

Meanwhile, economists in the North also stated that the postponement of the construction of the expressway would not have a significant impact in the region at the moment.

Economist, Point Pedro Institute of Development, Muttukrishna Sarvananthan told The Nation Gain that the recommencement of train services to the North, in addition to the already existing A9 road, was adequate for the region. “I don’t think that there is an urgent need for the expressway at the moment, and the delay would not have a significant impact as well,” he added.

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