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Elevated highway over protected area: CEA awaiting AG’s advice 

The Central Environmental Authority (CEA) is awaiting the Attorney General’s (AG) opinion on the granting of approval for the proposed four-lane elevated highway project from the New Kelani Bridge to Athurugiriya, to be constructed over the remaining green patches of Colombo’s wetland in Thalangama and Averihena. 

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Secretary to the Ministry of Environment Dr. Anil Jasinghe said that the CEA has not approved any of the proposals submitted by the Road Development Authority (RDA) and has instead sought the legal opinion of the AG’s Department.

“Last week, the CEA officials had a consultation at the AG’s Department and we are now waiting for advice on whether to proceed with it or not,” he said.

The Thalangama Environmental Protection Area including the Averihena Lake was declared so under the National Environment Act (NEA), No. 47 of 1980 as amended, by the CEA, in 2017, through the Gazette Notification No. 1487/10. 

The development of the four-lane elevated highway, which is 17.3 km in length, stretching from the New Kelani Bridge (Orugodawatta) to Athurugiriya, was proposed in 2015 to improve the road network in order to deal with the heavy influx of vehicles into the Colombo city limits. Phase one of the project, which is 6.9 km in length, has been planned from Orugodawatta to Rajagiriya while phase two, which is 10.4 km, will be from Rajagiriya to Athurugiriya.
According to the RDA, 45% of the land acquisition of the first phase of the project has been completed. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has already been completed. Furthermore, the feasibility study of phase two has also been completed.

Meanwhile, in November 2020, in a letter to the Highways Ministry and the Board of Investment (BOI), Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundara had instructed the Highways Ministry and the RDA to call for fresh proposals for the New Kelani Bridge to Athurugiriya stretch. 

It is stated that the Government will not encourage loan-funded projects and annuity payments (a series of payments made at equal intervals) to meet revenue shortfalls or guaranteed traffic, as these options are not affordable. It is further stated that several parties have submitted letters of intent or interest to the BOI for the two initiatives on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis. Most of them were largely of an unsolicited nature.

He has also instructed the Highways Ministry and the RDA to issue a detailed request for proposal (RFP) for the New Kelani Bridge to all parties who submitted letters of interest to the BOI or the Ministry.

The Government has considered constructing an elevated highway from the New Kelani Bridge at Orugodawatta to Rajagiriya (near the HSBC Bank) connecting with Sri Jayewardenepura Mawatha with a link road to Dematagoda. The EIA report of phase one includes finding field investigations of elevated highways from the New Kelani Bridge to Rajagiriya, and it also includes possible impacts that would occur during the pre-construction, construction, and operational stages of the project and feasible mitigation measures to be taken to avoid, minimise, or mitigate adverse impacts.