[Empty Roads in Hambantota]
The first thing you notice about Hambantota is those roads. They are wide, smooth and mostly empty. They also do not come cheap. The cost of the main expressways (completed as well as proposed) and the two flyovers are published with this article.
Three projects alone have cost nearly Rs. 59 billion: The Siribopura flyover, at Rs. 2.6 billion; the Mattala airport road flyover, at Rs. 3 billion; and the 32km expressway between Hambantota Port and Mattala Airport, at Rs. 53 billion (Rs. 54 billion at the current exchange rate). The last amounts to Rs. 1.6 billion rupees per kilometre.
But a massive outlay of funds has also been allocated for the construction, widening and rehabilitation of many of the smaller roads, as evident from the 2014 Development Performance Report of the Ministry of Finance and Planning’s Department of Project Management and Monitoring.
The report gives a breakdown of many B roads along with progress up to June 2014. It also reveals the allocation of respective technical evaluation committees for the project. It shows that to rehabilitate 5km of the Sandungama-Beralihena road in the Hambantota District, a sum of Rs. 86.46 million has been set aside. Another 4.8km section has been allocated Rs. 93.28 million and a third 5km stretch, Rs. 98.98 million.
The report discloses that 3.5km of Rubber Watta road in Tissamaharama has been allocated Rs. 83.46 million; 5km on Bodagama-Angunukolawewa road, Rs. 306.66 million (Rs. 61 million per km); and Rs. 69.2 million for 2km on the Malberigoda-Thiruwangodalla road.
The widening of a 3km stretch of Welipoththewela-Andaragasyaya road has been allocated Rs. 80.57 million and improvement of a 5km section of Ambakolawewa-Morayaya road, Rs. 106.61 million. Many of these projects are being carried out by the Maga Neguma Road Construction Equipment Company set up under the Ministry of Ports and Highways, a portfolio held by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The company’s website provides details. There has been no open competitive bidding process to determine whether the prices being paid are reasonable.
A large amount of funds has also been set aside for internal roads in the industrial village of Mirijjawila, although Government officials said they would not be carpeted until investors move in. “We are putting in gravel roads or we might have to redo them once investors come and there is a lot of construction and related vehicular movement going on,” one explained.
Transport experts, speaking on condition of anonymity, argue that road construction or rehabilitation is a positive growth feature. They question, however, whether the roads earmarked for costly development were selected on the basis of economic studies and on how much traffic uses them. They also ask how road construction costs have risen at a much higher rate than inflation.