ENVIRONMENT LOOMS LARGE : COLOMBO-KANDY EXPRESSWAY HITS NEW BUMPS
by Rukshana Rizwie (Sunday Observer)
Section 3 of the CEP starts at Pothuhera, and ends at Galagedera (A10 Road) covering an approximate length of 32.5km. The expressway will be a four lane carriageway with an operating speed of 100km/hr from Pothuhera to Galagedera. It consists of four interchanges, at Pothuhera, Polgahawela Interchange, Rambukkana and Galagedera. There are 12 main bridges, and 17 viaducts across the floodplains of the three major rivers, Rambukkan Oya, Kuda Oya and Kospothu Oya. There are also 106 culverts across medium/minor streams and irrigation canals, 23 underpasses, 14 overpasses across local roads and three tunnels. Some of the structures could be used by pedestrians to cross the expressway. The 3 tunnel sections, Tunnel 1 (290m), Tunnel 2 (200m) and Tunnel 3 (235m) act as twin tunnels with two lanes for each.
The government’s ambitious plans to construct the Colombo-Kandy Expressway (E04) has hit a new bump on the road, with both, academics and environmentalists expressing displeasure over the government’s plans to fast-track the project, without any environment and feasibility studies.
The E04 has been divided into four sections, of which, the third has been touted as one of the most geographically challenging phases. The government envisions building a four way lane through the mountainous terrain of Kadugannawa, which will be part of a 32.50km stretch from Pothuhera to Galagedara.
No feasibility study yet
“I have serious concerns over the economic viability, as there will be less traffic and high costs. There need to be an economic feasibility study to ascertain whether we will ever recover these costs; at present there is no such feasibility study,” Prof.K.A.S. Kumarage, of the Department of Transport and Logistics Management, University of Moratuwa opined. “I am yet to see any studies on how this section or highway would be environmentally sustainable, economically beneficial and, whether least cost approaches are adhered to,” he said.
Prof Kumarage explained, section III of the highway is to be built on a fragile terrain. He said, “One needs to be careful about putting new infrastructure in the central hills due to both, geographic and traffic limitations. Based on our work with the Megapolis Ministry, we have found that Kandy, which currently takes 50, 000 to 60, 000 vehicles each day, would not sustain any more.”
“In road building, officials assume there aren’t alternatives than building new roads, when in fact, the government could spend more on upgrading the public transport to the city, while offering better services and more facilities”, Prof Kumarage said. Referring to a feasibility study by Euroscan, several years ago, where a road network was proposed from Ambepussa to Kandy, which was to be a two-way section, he said, “This would still have provided convenient access, offered more travel time savings for commuters, and been environmentally feasible.”
EIA in a quandary
Environmentalist and Executive Director at the Centre for Environmental Justice, Dr Hemantha Withanage, said, compartmentalization of a single project was not the correct method to perform an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).
He referred to claims that the government had selected a bidder for the section,and pointed out that an approved EIA was sacrosanct to the entire process. “We have written to the authorities requesting them to complete the EIA for the entire highway, but it has not been heeded to,” he said. “If there are issues in one section of the highway, the next or preceding section should give leeway and due consideration.
However, when the project is compartmentalized, the environmental issues are considered in isolation, making the process counterproductive.”
EIA open for public comments
The final EIA of the third section of the highway, prepared by the Centre for Sustainability, University of Sri Jayewardenepura was released last week and is currently open for public comments. The EIA will be accessible for 30 days.
Dr. Priyan Perera, coordinating director at the Centre said, the team did have several serious concerns about the terrain over which the highway was to be constructed. “This particular stretch is vulnerable to landslides and issues over land stability.
We have avoided sensitive locations which were pointed out in a report by the Geological and Mines Survey Bureau,” he said. Dr. Perera, however, cautioned that it isn’t a hazard-proof plan and even after obtaining EIAs, there can be instances when unexpected events could occur. “We saw this with the Uma Oya project where many issues propped up even after the EIA was approved,” he said.
Complexities of the section
The proposed section cuts through the wet zone and the intermediate zone. It is located in an area consisting urban settlements, (Pothuhera and Galagedera) peri-urban settlements and rural areas, sparse forests, riparian vegetation, rocky outcrops, paddy fields, coconut and other cultivations, home gardens, drainage entities such as rivers, streams, and irrigation canals. In addition, it crosses a number of streams and canals, or runs close to them, including the Rambukkan Oya, Kuda Oya and Kospothu Oya.
Environmental impacts stated in the EIA
“Since certain sections of the proposed road runs through steep mountain slopes the impact on land form and stability can be considered as significant. ‘Unless proper mitigatory measures are taken, the project can increase the possibility of landslides along road cuts and possible land subsidence. “Since this section goes through a considerable extent of paddy fields and low lying areas, the construction activities are bound to cause significant hydrological impacts, such as, increasing the incidence of flooding, change in flow patterns and disruption to continuity of irrigation canals.
“To overcome these impacts numerous mitigatory measures will be undertaken through design.
“It will be ensured that construction will take place in the dry period.
Flood impacts are anticipated in the floodplains of Rambukkan Oya, Kuda Oya and Kospothu Oya. Most of the paddy areas of minor irrigation schemes will be impacted and there will be loss of some paddy lands..
“There could also be temporary issues regarding irrigation water allocation to isolated paddy fields.
“The Siyambalangamuwa forest reserve is likely to be indirectly influenced resulting in disturbance to fauna by affecting their home ranges and exposing them to the danger of road kills. These potential impacts on the Siyambalangamuwa forest could be mitigated through the proposed underpasses for terrestrial fauna, and canopy bridges and mesh enclosures for arboreal fauna to cross the expressway and go from one forest patch to another”.
The EIA also warns that groundwater levels of some dug wells in the vicinity could be affected during construction because of deep cuts and that there will be a significant impact on the livelihood of the surrounding community as a result of land acquisition and displacement.
Expressway to be completed by 2019
Meanwhile, Minister of Higher Education and Highways, Lakshman Kiriella remained optimistic that the Central Expressway project will be completed by the end of 2019.
The Minister said, the Central Highway, Ruwanpura Highway and other elevated highways will be constructed and the Southern Expressway will be extended up to Hambantota and Batticaloa, from there.