Sri Lanka: Bumpy Roads Take me Home

There are many roads where there are no pavements. Also in rare situations, the pavements are too broad hence wasting valuable space which can be utilised for road site parking.

by Suminda Sirinath Salpitikorala Dharmasena

The road network is the blood veins of the economy providing mobility to the masses to travel to their places of work and transport goods and services to the consumers.

Roads come up organically in ad hoc ways or through city planning. In Sri Lanka, much of the roads are not planned well planned but evolution and further development of historically existing routes.

Hence there is here is an inadequacy of:

- parking space

- pavements

- beautification and shade for the pedestrians

- drainage

- maintenance of roads

- traffic management and discipline

- road monitoring

- road crossings

- connecting roads to Highways

When people travel using vehicles for them to go about their business at their destination parking is a necessity. Many roads do not have adequate space for parking hence there are many vehicles parked haphazardly near the pavements. This obstructs the traffic on the roads. Parking needs of the people are 2 folds:

- short term parking for things like shopping or visiting an establishment

- long term parking when going to work

Both types of parking require 2 different solutions.

For short term parking, the best is to have roadside parking with parking meters. Having parking meters would enable the government to minimise the use of the facility as it is a public utility.

For long term parking, multiple solutions are needed. Any new building approvals should be checked to have adequate parking. Also, parking complexes should be built with multi-story parking facilities where one can part for long hours at nominal costs. Any company adding a new publicly usable parking slot should get tax concession and other inducements. Also, the government may initiate projects with public listings on the stock exchange and private management. 

Coming to the question of pavements, there are many roads where there are no pavements. Also in rare situations, the pavements are too broad hence wasting valuable space which can be utilised for road site parking.

In Sri Lankan cities there hardly is any greenery. Ideally, this should change by planting trees on the roadside and road dividers. The trees should not occupy too much space. Strong thick cylindrical concrete tubes can be placed towards the outermost edge of the pavements and trees could be planted. If the trees are too young they can be vulnerable hance, they should be grown to a reasonable size in nurseries and then planted.

When there are heavy rains, the drainage problems of the city pop up. There are stretches of road which are submerged in water. Not all possible cases can be avoided but in most rains, there should be no flooding.

Parking, pavements, drainage, and beautification do not carry any weigh if the roads are not well maintained. The quality of roads in Sri Lanka has drastically improved. This trend should continue. Hence there should be adequate road maintenance. This maintenance should be well-coordinated and planned. So when road maintenance or expansion is due, other parties and stakeholders like utility companies can do the needful in laying drainage, cables and pipes, in complete synchrony.

Also, the discipline of three-wheeler drivers and motorcyclists certainly have much room to improve. In roads where there is space, there can be a dedicated small lane for them. If any attempt is made to wiggle between vehicles in any dangerous way they should be fined for dangerous driving. Properly implementing this would be an additional income to the government.

Ultimately all Sri Lankan public roads should be monitored by CCTV. Also, there should be incident monitoring with number plate recognition where road fines should be given based on traffic violations caused on camera. This should be an automated system with some human oversight for corner cases. Annually the vehicle owner should be established and any fines should should be directly sent to the house. Similarly, on roadside fines, the driver's license need not be kept and fine should be directly sent through post when entered into the system. This would increase road safety and smooth operation of the road network while minimising the losses due to accidents and traffic jams. If costs of such a project is a concern, the revenue the government can generate from such a system outweighs the costs, considering the discipline of the drivers in our roads. Also, the cost of building the system can be perhaps further reduced by building it through a non-profit like Lanka Software Foundation.

For all roads which lack pavements and parking the government should look at improving. Government spending on these projects would infuse money to the economy and stimulate it. Unskilled workers who lost their livelihood due to the COVID crisis can be employed for these projects. This will keep food on the table for many families.

Also, the government should look at expanding the roads, especially those with high congestion. The government can reach out to companies like Google to get the needed data for this purpose. This also would mean people living next to major roads get compensation when the roads expand as compensation for loss of land to the expansion. This would be an infusion of money into the economy driving consumer spending. Road expansions should not be too fast which might drive inflationary pressure due to the production consumer goods cannot keep pace with the demand created by the infused money. Essentially this has the side effect of puts money in people's pockets but taking care not to put too much.

Sri Lankans are very indisciplined when crossing the roads perhaps due to lack of roadside crossing for regular frequency. Many more crossings with colour lights should be put in place on all roads. Many overhead crossings are very are rarely used as climbing stairs in a hassle. Existing overhead bridges can be repurposed by fitting rudimentary lifts, which can be locally engineered. Also, parts of the bridges can be rented out for shops to bolster government income. Similarly, new overhead bridges can be constructed for crossing. Also along the edges plants can be planed.

The roads leading to highways are very much inadequate. So infrastructure and road network around highways should be improved. E.g. the road from Nugegoda, Pagoda to the expressway from Talawathugoda junction is too narrow. These roads should be developed. Also, Pagoda Road should be developed into a two-lane road. Similarly, connecting roads throughout the country should be developed.

Subcontracting these activities to construction companies would not be ideal as

- profits would concentrate in the hands of few individuals and

- such profit may not find itself back to the economy due to investor sentiment

thus damping the effects of trying to stimulate the economy. Ideally, the road development and government building & construction should be undertaken by a government-funded institution established taping into the competencies the State Engineering Corporation. The capital should be largely provided by the government with public funding by listing on the stock exchange. The management should be private. This way profits from construction can also partly benefit the public at large.

Government spending post COVID environment would pave the way to economic recovery. Developing roads and beautification of the cities would be very much worthy cause. Previously when H.E. President handled urban development much work was undertaken in the beautification of the cities by building parks, while providing employment opportunities to the masses. Please continue the good work and increase spending on beautification and building roads making Sri Lanka a paradise on earth.

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