Opinion: Rajagiriya flyover, for whose benefit?

construction housing building

By Commuter

Commuters on Sri Jayewardenepura Mawatha are currently circumnavigating a construction site in the middle of the road in Rajagiriya. The site – and therefore the circumnavigation – appears to be getting longer by the day. The signboard put up by RDA at the side of the road indicates that the flyover under construction is about 550m long, and merely spans the Rajagiriya junction on the main road.

The flyover is to be 4-lanes (2 lanes in each direction) and financed through export credit from a Spanish Bank. This costs the Sri Lankan tax-payer around LKR 4.7 Billion plus interest plus other contingent costs. According to a statement from RDA’s Project Director reported in a local newspaper, “traffic in Rajagiriya will vanish” with the flyover. More likely, the flyover will vanish in traffic.

The flyover is supposedly to reduce the congestion in Rajagiriya junction. But the congestion on that corridor does not begin and end in Rajagiriya. Sri Jayewardenepura Mawatha for the most part has 6 lanes – 3 lanes on either side. Imagine morning rush hour with the flyover. 3 lanes of traffic coming from Kottawa, Malabe, Battaramulla, Pelawatte, Kotte etc will all slow down at the start of the flyover and merge to 2-lanes creating a bottle neck.

Similarly another bottle neck will be created at the other end, with the 2 lanes of the flyover, 1 or 2 lanes of at-grade road and 1 or 2 lanes from Nawala road all having to merge into 3 lanes. There’s traffic chaos at Rajagiriya now because of reduced road space due to construction. Get used to it. It would be the same after the flyover is built, if not worse. According to some RDA officials, the flyover won’t ease congestion, but they didn’t have a say in the matter.

RDA is acquiring private property on both sides of the road for the flyover. Consider currently this stretch is a 6-lane highway with a center median and parking lane and sidewalk for pedestrians on one side. That’s a width of almost 8 lanes. Apparently that’s not sufficient to install a 4 lane flyover! Even if an unviable flyover is to be installed at public cost to suit somebody’s interests, couldn’t RDA have designed it in a way that does not require acquisition of people’s property and reduce their property values, income sources, livelihoods and assets?

Isn’t it RDA’s obligation to the public they are supposed to serve? Is it fair to ask those property owners to give up their hard-earned assets for a flyover which doesn’t give any benefit to them – or to the country as a whole?

Generally, land acquisition should be done at the preparatory stage of a Project, before contract award. This is to allow the project affected people space for consultation and grievance redressal which could sometimes be only done through modification to routes or project scope.

In Rajagiriya, the Section 2 notice – which is the first legal notice of Government’s intention to acquire- was issued only after construction commenced. There was no prior consultation with the affected public. Was this RDA’s (and Ministry of Highways’?) indirect strategy for closing the doors for public grievances?

Under the Prime Minister’s Megapolis Project, cabinet recently approved to seek finance from the Japan for an elevated railway from Malabe to Colombo. The network plan on the Megapolis Project website shows that the elevated railway lies on the Rajagiriya flyover. Kudos to Megapolis – improving public transport is a real solution for the congestion, if done right. So what happens to Rajagiriya flyover then? Is it to be demolished to make way for the elevated railway, or are people’s houses to be demolished to keep somebody’s ‘cut’ intact?

The honorable deputy minister of foreign affairs put up a signboard at Rajagiriya with the mandatory selfie for the ground breaking ceremony a few months back. The signboard claimed that the flyover will reduce travel time from Battaramulla to Nelum Pokuna by 50 percent. That’s about 10km distance. Before the construction started at morning rush hour it took close to an hour for that stretch. Out of which around 5 minutes were spent in crossing the 550m of Rajagiriya junction.

Even if this flyover was to miraculously move the traffic in zero minutes, that’s the max time reduction one could expect. 5 minutes at the cost of 5 billion rupees. And the honorable deputy minister is supposedly an economist, and the even more honorable subject minister the Leader of the good governance House.

For whose benefit, this wasteful flyover? It is certainly not for the public, although it is the public who will pay the cost in multiple fronts.