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Sri Lanka president unveils island’s first expressway

/ 10:03 PM November 27, 2011

HISTORIC HIGHWAY Sri Lankan men dressed in traditional costumes look on during the opening ceremony of the southern highway in Welipenna, Sri Lanka, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011. Sri Lanka Sunday opened its first ever highway linking capital Colombo and southern port city Galle. AP Photo/ Eranga Jayawardena

COLOMBO—Sri Lanka’s President on Sunday unveiled the island’s first expressway, linking the capital and the southern city of Galle, asserting that better road connectivity would remedy old separatist tendencies.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who opened the expressway by unveiling a plaque at the main entry point in Galle, drove a short distance before addressing a public rally where he promised a highway “revolution” on the island.

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“Separatist tendencies will fade away when we have better road connectivity,” Rajapakse said referring to the island’s drawn out ethnic war, which ended in May 2009 with the crushing defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels.

“There will be a revolution in road construction,” he said, adding that the government plans to construct another expressway linking Colombo to the Tamil-dominated Jaffna region in the north.

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The expressway opened Sunday links the island’s southern port city of Galle with Colombo. The 96-kilometer (60-mile) four-lane road cost $700 million and is three times over budget.

Sri Lanka borrowed $178 million from the ADB and sought $317 million from the Japan International Cooperation Agency to finance the project.

But it was competed three years behind schedule, with two interlinking bridges collapsing, killing a pedestrian, during the early stages of the work. Land acquisition and funding shortfalls caused further delays.

“The new route will reduce congestion on the main (coastal) highway to Galle,” the Deputy Highways minister Nirmala Kotalawela said, adding that the roadway will boost the southern region’s economy.

Last year, Sri Lanka pledged to spend a billion dollars in foreign aid to rebuild roads as the island emerged from nearly four decades of ethnic war.

The Tamil Tigers had campaigned for a separate state for island’s ethnic Tamil minority and controlled nearly a third of the island’s territory at the height of their power.

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TAGS: ADB, Highway, Japan, road, Sri Lanka
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