By Rajitha Jagoda Arachchi/The Sunday Observer
“Yes, you can go to Kataragama from Kottawa in 3 hours” he reiterated.
It was one of the important stretches of the Southern Expressway which is under construction. This massive construction site was full of both, local and Chinese workers. Heavy tipper trucks loaded with sand and soil were moving around super-fast.
We were at the Andarawewa Interchange point in the Southern Expressway. It is considered a unique place in Sri Lanka’s expressway system as it connects both, the Hambantota International Port and the Mattala International Airport to the Expressway.
According to A.P.K. Abeydheera, Project Director/ Southern Expressway (Phase 4), after the completion of the Southern Expressway up to Mattala, a commuter who gets into the Expressway from Kottawa can reach Kataragama in 3 hours, covering roughly 260 kms.
“The Mattala-Lunugamvehera Road is also being done up as a four-lane road. Travelling down South will be very easy in the future, with the completion of the entire stretch,” he said.
The Southern Expressway which currently runs up to Godagama (Matara), is being developed up to Mattala and Hambantota under the current development program. This project is extended under four phases i.e. Matara to Beliatta , Beliatta to Wetiya, Wetiya to Andarawewa and Mattala to Hambantota via Andarawewa.
“The fourth phase of the project will be completed in the first quarter of next year. We have completed 75% of the work now. The approximate cost for this stage was Rs. 52 bn,” Abeydheera said.
Section 1 of the Expressway will be opened around June next year and Section 3 by December this year. Section 2 however will be opened in October next year. The Expressway will be completed in full by October 2019.
Andarawewa is considered to be heavily populated with elephants. Focusing attention on the sustainability of the eco system, the Expressway has several elephant corridors. There will be 8 interchanges between Matara and Hambantota.
The entire project is Chinese funded and the China Harbour Engineering Company serves as the contractor.
On December 9, 2017, two companies were created to administer the Hambantota International Port under the concession agreement between Sri Lanka and China. Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) and the Hambantota International Port Services Co. (Pvt) Ltd. (HIPS), the twin companies have officially taken over the Port. These two new companies were set up with the collaboration of China Merchant Port Holdings (CMPort) (85%) and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) (15%).
Soon after they commenced operation, HIPG had begun Dry Bulk and Break Bulk whereas RO&RO operation was the top priority previously. Even today RO&RO is considered to be the best business for Hambantota claiming an 85% YoY growth in the number of vehicles handled by the Port in the first half of 2018.
“Colombo is not a adversary to Hambantota. We actually go parallel with the Colombo Port. On the other hand, Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) is also a terminal managed by the China Merchant Port Holdings Company Ltd, our mother company. CICT is the market leader in the Colombo Harbour. Therefore, being a competition to Colombo means an adverse situation to CICT too” Tissa Wickramasinghe, Chief Operations Officer, Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) elucidated.
Around 40 acres artificial island is also an exceptional sub project of the Hambantota Port development project.
“Earlier we had some plans about the artificial island. But, now we have assigned Atkin, a well experienced British company to prepare a master plan. We are going to implement activities after we receive the business plan,” he said.
Another key advantage for Hambantota after the acquisition was to introduce state-of-the-art technology used in ports operations. Bulk Terminal Operating System (BTOS) is one such technology where you can register a large amount of cargo simultaneously whereas it was done manually earlier. There were rumours that China will use its naval power in Hambantota to make it a key location for their activities in the Indian Ocean. However, officials at HIPS refuted those claims.
‘Sri Lankan Navy is the sole military operator in the Hambantota Port premises and also in the waters. In Sri Lanka, the Navy is the only authorised party to offer security services” said Capt. Ravi Jayawickrama, CEO HIPS. Also, the Government is planning to establish the southern naval base in the Hambantota Port, soon.
The Hambantota International Port is still in its preliminary stage. CM ports and Sri Lanka Ports Authority wishes to develop Hambantota as a Multi-purpose port.
(The featured image at the top shows the Southern Expressway in Sri Lanka being built by Chinese)