Elevated Highway Project : Chinese contractor not keen on Section I
9 months ago
Proceeding with Section I alone not economically feasible
Contractor averse to Section I without Section II confirmation
By Maheesha MudugamuwaSection I of the Elevated Highway Project (EHP), from New Kelani Bridge to Rajagiriya, is unlikely to commence soon as the Chinese contractor has not shown interest in moving forward with the project without a confirmation on Section II, The Sunday Morning learns. Section II of the EHP, which has been planned from Rajagiriya to Athurugiriya, is currently facing legal obstructions due to legal action filed by an environmental rights organisation. It is learnt that the Chinese contractor – China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd. (CHEC) – to whom the project to construct and operate a four-lane elevated highway from New Kelani Bridge to Athurugiriya via Rajagiriya was awarded was not keen on only going ahead with Section I as it would not be economically viable at the moment.The EHP was designed to be implemented in two phases. Phase I of the project will be a four-lane road section with a total length of 6.9 km, originating from New Kelani Bridge and ending up at Rajagiriya. Phase II of the project will extend from Rajagiriya to Athurugiriya (10.4 km), and will connect with the proposed Outer Circular Expressway. The EHP was to be constructed by CHEC, which already has a large project portfolio in Sri Lanka on a Build, Operate, and Transfer (BOT) basis. The awarding of the construction contract to CHEC was approved by the Cabinet in April, based on the recommendations made by the Cabinet-Appointed Negotiating Committee.Earlier, construction work was envisaged to be completed by 2025. The project has been in the limelight ever since its proposal by the Government, as environmentalists as well as residents are vehemently opposed to it, alleging that it will pose severe damage to the remaining green patches of Colombo’s wetland in Thalangama and Averihena.Residents have urged the Government to use a different route to avoid the wetland if it truly wants to proceed with the project. According to the residents and environmentalists, there will be severe changes in the surrounding environment once a mega-scale development project is run through a wetland. Since the Thalangama Wetland is one of the very few remaining wetlands in the Western Province, residents have stressed the need to protect the area for the future generations. The project was kept on hold for several months as the authorities were unable to go ahead with the road construction over the wetland due to the Thalangama Wetland – including the Averihena Lake – being declared an Environmental Protection Area (EPA) under the National Environment Act No. 47 of 1980 as amended by the Central Environment Authority (CEA) in 2017 through Gazette Notification Number 1487/10. However, after the construction of the project was awarded to the CHEC, the Government decided to re-gazette the Thalangama EPA in order to allow the construction of the proposed EHP from New Kelani Bridge to Athurugiriya. Meanwhile, a writ petition was filed in the Court of Appeal by the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) seeking an order preventing the construction of the highway. In the petition, the CEJ stated that the uniqueness and importance of this area should be recognised, owing to its ecological, hydrological, and historical importance. After the CEA had carried out detailed studies and research, the Thalangama Tank and its environs were declared an EPA under the National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980 (as amended) by Gazette Extraordinary No. 1487/10 dated 5 March 2007.When contacted by The Sunday Morning, EHP Project Director K. Selvanathan said the project was currently on hold due to an ongoing court case. There were no plans to award only Section I, he added.However, Treasury Deputy Secretary R.M.P. Rathnayake said there was no barrier to proceeding with investment-oriented projects.As the EHP is to be constructed as a BOT project, the project will not be affected by the current economic issues, according to Deputy Secretary Rathnayake.“We have not suspended mega development projects and ongoing projects, but we don’t promote new projects for which the Government should commit – basically, the ones on loans,” he said, adding that this project did not fit the loan framework, and as such, if the Highways Ministry were to make relevant arrangements, there would be no issue about proceeding with the project.