No end to road digging | Daily News

No end to road digging

Temporary signs mark roads under construction. They are being dug up for huge pipelines to be buried along the road, triggering traffic jams which have become common place in and around Colombo.

Digging up of roads has become a grave menace for the public and commuters, but the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) claimed that the project was initiated with the aim of providing a better water supply facility for the city.

There are two ongoing projects under Water Board they are; the Colombo Water Supply Service Improvement Project (under greater Colombo Water and Wastewater Management Improvement Investment Programme) and the Town East Colombo Package which includes four projects (transmission and distribution of water).

Water Board Chairman K.A Ansar explained that the water distribution pipe network was over 100 years old and it was not capable enough to provide clean pipe borne water to a rising population.

"The project will improve the efficiency and financial sustainability of water services in Colombo. This includes rehabilitating the city's water supply network and reducing the amount of water that is leaked or distributed without payment", he said.

The Colombo Water Supply Service Improvement Project was being funded by the Asian Development Bank to improve water and wastewater facilities in Colombo.

Ansar perceived this project as a solution to the prevailing issues pertaining to distribution of water in Colombo. The project is expected to be completed as planned in three years' time.

"The implementation of the project is currently underway in the city of Colombo, and we earnestly request from the general public for their corporation during this period, and to bear the temporary inconveniences that may be caused in these areas", he said.

Road digging continues

These assurances however do not make the situation easier for many on the roads daily.

"The roads in Colombo have no vacation", said R. Dayasiri, a three wheel driver from Colombo.

"I know that Colombo is the commercial city but look around, it's hard to find a straight road that has not been dug by either the CMC or the Water Board", he said.

He also noted that some construction work takes took much longer than expected to complete.

To this Ansar quipped that they were not going to keep digging the same place for three years though the whole project was expected to finish in three years.

He noted that they had to face many practical issues while implementing these projects.

"We have to get permission from the police and then consult the Road Development Authority (RDA). The police having checked the traffic patterns in the area will give permission to do the work for limited hours in a day", he said.

Ansar explained that the best example of their problems was the replacing of a big portion of pipe near the Rajagiriya overhead bridge.

"According to the scheduled plan, we needed 18 hours to complete the work, to replace the pipe and connect it to the by roads. But the police were able to give us only two hours per day considering peak traffic hours. It was one of the major reasons for the delay", he said.

We need to do this because 45 percent of the water is wasted due to leakage and this needs to be addressed immediately, he said.

"Through the above projects we will be able to bring it down to 18 percent", he added.

He further said that people complain because they are not aware of the projects carried out by the Water Board and added that it is for their own well-being.

Ansar assured that a 24 hour water supply could be provided once the project was complete.

In the meantime, Ansar said that Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and Road Development Authority (RDA) were also carrying out independent projects.

The Daily News however learnt that major projects in Colombo at present were being carried out by the Water Board.

State of the roads after construction

The roads that are dug up to lay pipelines and re-laid by contractors appointed by the Water Board are supervised by Road Development Authority (RDA).

"In areas where larger pipelines are laid, it will be the responsibility of the Water Board to re - lay the road and RDA would ensure that it's up to standard", said Ansar.

However, the public pointed out that the city was getting swamped with construction every other day. They raised concerns over bad roads and the traffic problems faced by commuters everyday due to construction work.

Apart from the increase in dust pollution due to the construction work, several commuters complained about the poor state of roads. Newly constructed roads at times had made man-holes causing severe hazards to those driving on them.

Though the traffic police officials have surveyed the areas to be dug in order to minimize traffic problems, Ansar assured that digging would not be carried out simultaneously everywhere.

Ansar claimed that the payment incurred by RDA for supervision was very high.

RDA Project Director, K. Amaraweera agreed that they charged the Water Board for excavating the pipes but refused to comment on the charges made.

"We usually give them an estimation to reinstate the road. When we redo damaged roads, we make sure that they are to the same standards", he said.

Need for service corridors

Sri Lanka however is yet to implement new techniques and technologies in road constructions in order to minimise the damages caused to the roads.

Ansar said that they used micro tunnel methods to find the pipelines without digging the road and Amaraweera assured that they took necessary precautions when the work was being carried out.

"Micro tunnelling is very effective instead of digging a wide section. We only need to dig one inch and lay the pipe. But it's very effective for fiber optic lines and domestic pipe lines", he said.

In the meantime, Ansar complained that most old drawings of Colombo and suburbs were not available and not well maintained, therefore it was hard for them to find where the pipelines had been laid.

"All institutions have that problem where the older drawings were not maintained properly. Since 1983 there have been initiatives to solve pipelines issue but achievement was comparatively less", he said.

Ansar pointed out that Water Board would lay pipes this year and the following year but either the CEB or RDA would have to dig the roads once again to carry out their projects.

"When we formulate a project and receive funds, RDA or CEB might not have funds so we cannot carry out their plans simultaneously", he said.According to Ansar, suggestions to construct service corridors along with new roads have been made.

He said that building service corridors was very expensive and costly and added that they do not have the necessary funds available at the moment."It would be great if the government could provide funds to build service corridors", he said.

Amaraweera also said that to avoid frequent damage to optical fibre cables during construction and widening of roads, the RDA had proposed a utility conduit or duct (service corridors) be made part of the projects.

"The Chairman said that he would see the possibilities of solving the issues related to expense. But there are a few budgetary problems and that need to be sorted out first", he said.

Officials assured that if sufficient space was left on either side of the roads to allow pipelines to be laid or for other projects to be carried out, the government and the public need not undergo the present problems time and time again.

Inconvenience caused to the public

M. Kumarage a lawyer from Battaramulla complained that he had resigned himself to more traffic jams and bumpy roads in Colombo.

Kumarage observed that the problem was not just digging up a road for one project but continuously doing so every time a new project comes along under various departments.

For K.Siriwardane, a shop owner from Slave Island, every month there seems to be some construction work going on, obstructing vehicles and people.

“I don't really know who is doing the project now. Because the RDA, Water board and CEB take turns to dig these roads. There are no big shops on this way, and the workers often obstruct the entrance to the shops”, he said.

The construction work in Slave Island has been going on for over two months, according to P. M Wasana who lives down one of the lanes there.

“The officials said that they are replacing the pipe lines. I once inquired of them when the project was due to end but they were not aware. They said it might take a bit longer than the scheduled period”, she said.

She further said vehicle jams in the area had led to many residents themselves not being able to move around freely. G.H Navanithan, a three wheel driver complained that laying of carpet on roads at present was not up to previous standards. “After few months, there are potholes in the previously dug up areas. That’s the state of several roads within Colombo”, he said.

A disappointed Navanithan said his customers often complained about the state of the roads because they felt it more on a tuk tuk, “This is not like travelling in a hybrid car”, he added.

This construction project has been a huge nuisance for Amanda who lives on 5th lane, Colpetty.

“When I moved into this apartment five months ago, I was told that the construction was “almost complete” and that it should be done within a few weeks. Five months later, yes, the giant hole preventing vehicles from parking in front of our house is gone, but nightly, starting around 8 pm, drilling begins”, she said.

She said their property has been damaged due to construction with workers parking large machines on our front lawn, damaging tiles.

“Random road closures clog up traffic, drilling until past midnight disrupts sleep, the air is constantly polluted with dust, and the presence of construction workers – sometimes just milling about rather than actually doing work – makes the otherwise safe road not secure for women to walk down in the evenings due to the stares and catcalls”, she explained.

According to Amanda, the constructors do not garner much support from this neighborhood. 

Project plan to last 50 years

Zahrah Imtiaz

Colombo Municipal Council Commissioner V.K Anura speaking to the Daily News about the ongoing and future plans for the city of Colombo said that innovative and sustainable urban plans have been formulated.

Excerpts follow:

Q. The main topic at the recently concluded 30th City Net Congress was how cities can develop sustainably in future. Does Colombo have such a plan?

A. When you take Colombo city, it is the heart of Sri Lanka. And this is not a city that can only be managed by the Municipal Council and its officials. We have a population of 650,000 living in Colombo, every day we have another 600,000 travelling into Colombo from outside. So we have to supply essential services to a large population.

If we make development plans centred just around Colombo, it will be unsuccessful. Its boundaries are small but when developing it we have to take into account its surrounding areas, from which people come from.We are an implementing agency where policy decisions are largely taken within the national policy framework.

There is no point in making roads within Colombo without limiting the number of vehicles which come into the city, so it has to go beyond Colombo. To reduce the congestion in the Colombo Railway, we cannot just increase the rail network inside, it has to start from outside. We only have powers within the Colombo Municipal limit. And thus to build our reach beyond its borders, we have the Megapolis Ministry.

When you take sustainable development, all this has been taken into account to develop a comprehensive plan to develop Colombo with all outside factors taken into account.

Q. Cities around the world have taken the initiative and developed home grown strategies to overcome local issues. Their main source of success stems from them asking the people themselves what they want, a form of participatory governance. Do you not think such programmes would be suitable for us also?

A. You are asking about developing the essential services within Colombo City. We seek the assistance of the people who live in it for that. Though Colombo is seen as a very beautiful city, around 60 percent live in this city without basic services. So together with the Ministry of Megapolis, we are working to provide them with the basic facilities. In addition we are undertaking the development plans of Colombo city in a very transparent manner. You would see that Colombo gets easily flooded even for the slightest of rains, and we have sewerage problems, the main reason is the outdated sewer network below the city. This is the only city in the country to have an underground sewer and drainage network. Now we are finding solutions to this problem which will last us for the next 50 years, through the ADB funded project, JICA and other agencies, we are at this moment working on a project to develop a storm water drain system.

At present we release raw sewage into the sea. But we are now constructing our sewer treatment plants and in the next two to three years, all waste water will be treated before released to the sea.

Q. Where is this?

A. We have planned to build one for the Wellawatte, Bambalapitiya area and another in Mattakkuliya.Then another in Madampitiya.

The biggest problem the city has is storm water and waste water, so we have made comprehensive plans to deal with these two issues.

This is one of the biggest projects in Colombo’s recent history to be undertaken. Today if you see, most roads around Colombo have been dug up. Over 510 km are dug up so that for the next 50 years water, electricity, and telecommunication facilities, being built. Colombo is on its way for a great transformation and we will only need to break these roads again in another 50 years or so, and hopefully by that time they would have discovered technology which will not need us to dig up roads to add new infrastructure.




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