E01: The spectacular beauty & life-threatening dangers of Sri Lanka’s Southern Expressway

We drove down to Galle today on the newly opened E01 road, more commonly known as the Southern Highway / Expressway. Setting off at 6.33am, we were in Galle at 7.45am, and setting off after a leisurely breakfast at around 9.45am, we were back in Kottawa around 10.45am. Many will take this same journey in the days and weeks ahead just to experience the road, Sri Lanka’s first highway. To be able to go to Galle and return in such a short time is, for those used to the 3 – 4 hours it takes along Galle Road, nothing short of incredible.

Our impressions of the journey follow along with some photos of E01.

The drive just before sunrise, weaving through countryside as day breaks is nothing short of spectacular. It is beautiful to the point of distraction, since though driving at over one hundred kilometres an hour demands complete attention on road conditions, the eyes are in constant competition with the pull of the scenery. The complete absence of any billboards and advertising is wonderful.

There is very little traffic on the road. And yet, the toll gates in Galle and Kottawa (the Colombo side entrance) struggle to deal with traffic. There is no automated toll system / lane, there are too few lanes at the toll booths, the ticketing is manually conducted and exiting the expressway takes time on account of the payment. These are bottlenecks, and will grow worse over time as traffic flows also increase. Doesn’t seem to be room for expansion of existing tollgates, but we hope there are some plans for enhancing and increasing them at every entry and exit point.

Road conditions from Kottawa to Nugegoda vary widely. The famous ‘debichchiya‘ on High Level Road remains a bottleneck, and though the road has been considerably widened on both sides, the Delkanda Junction is also a major bottleneck. The junction is currently under construction, adding to the delays. The Maharagama area is full of pedestrian traffic. The widening of the road from Maharagama to past the Pepiliyana Junction (up until the Nugegoda flyover) has been done without any consideration at all for a pavement. People are forced to walk on the main road, amongst cyclists, three wheelers and other faster moving traffic. The newly carpeted road is considerably high in some places from the ground and for the elderly, shopping laden pedestrians as well as cyclists, this is extremely dangerous. Though another was promised, the Nugegoda fly-over is still a rather small affair, with traffic from two lanes nudged to a single lane on it. Bus halts placed too close to it, coupled with the atrocious driving habits of private buses in particular, add to the congestion. At school times, traffic basically comes to a complete standstill in this area.

What all this essentially means is that travelling from the heart of Colombo to Kottawa will take, particularly during rush hours, far more time than travelling from Kottawa to Galle.

E01 clearly cuts through the countryside. This means that it cuts through areas previously inhabited by wildlife. It is unclear how effective measures to prevent wildlife from entering the road are successful. Even during the day, the animals on the highway are a life-threatening danger. This is a serious problem, and we do not recommend driving on the road at night.

We counted at least 50 dogs on the road going to and returning from Galle. They are on the driving lane and lounge as well as sleep on the overtaking lane. The highway undulates, and upon reaching a crescent, there are occasions when corrective measures to avoid running over a dog result in driving that can lose lives. The mist that enshrouded parts of the highway in the morning makes this worse. Dogs were seen crossing the road, lolling on the emergency lane and in between the road dividers, and darting across the highway.

In addition to dogs, there are sections of the highway were low flying birds almost hit the vehicle, suggesting that the highway is cutting through what may have been traditional nesting grounds. A photo above captures the problem – we weren’t able to make out what this bird was, but it just cut across the vehicle, which at the speed one travels in, is most disconcerting.

As another photo above shows, there are also sections of the highway where there are a lot of peacocks. They literally glide down from the cliffs alongside the road, and then meander across the highway.

We didn’t see any other wildlife (e.g. cows) but the abundance of stray dogs alone poses a risk we believe can lead to serious injury and even the loss of life if unchecked.

We noticed a number of vehicles stopped by the side of road with mechanical defects, suggesting that motorists keen to experience the new highway aren’t aware of the toll it takes on a vehicle at sustained high speeds.

Police presence was marginal. Those who were roadside seemed more interested in lane discipline than checking speed. We averaged around 110 – 115kmp/h. Many cars, including for some reason a large number of unregistered vehicles and those with garage plates regularly overtook us doing upwards of 140kmp/h. Even the Minister in charge of highways publicly stated he went on the road at 180kmp/h. It is unclear therefore whether the stipulated speed is going to be strictly enforced. The road itself allows for higher speeds, but encountering a stray dog at this speed is not a physics experiment we are inclined to try or experience.

There is no signage at all with emergency telephone numbers, so if you do get stuck and need help, it’s not at all clear to dial 1969, which is the highway’s dedicated emergency hotline.

The emergency lane / hard shoulder seems far too small, and is barely wide enough for a family sized car, leave aside a larger SUV. The road itself lacks adequate rest areas for drivers to rest. Microsleep at high speed kills, and its unclear why there are so little places for R&R.

Google Maps does not feature E01. We don’t know if local satellite navigation devices and databases (e.g. Dialog SatNav) have been updated with the road either.

E01’s greatest achievement is not so much in the engineering of the road, but in its ability to make Sri Lanka smaller and more easily accessible. We imagine the road will be extensively used during the up-coming Galle Literary Festival. But aside from this, the gastronomical delights of Spaghetti & Co in Hikkaduwa to the beauty and diversity of Galle Fort now feel closer, more easily reached. It’s a great and welcome development.

Photos of the highway from Kottawa to Galle

Photos of the highway from Galle to Kottawa

  • Lankan Thinker

    The RDA should consider extending the existing CCTV infrastructure to support ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) as a means of identifying the cars that use the highway so that tolls can be charged without the need to stop at the booths. A similar system is used to collect the ‘Congestion Charge’ in cities like London. The ANPR system would have the added benefit of allowing the police to enforce average speed limits.

  • Against Fraud

    Sadly, as in all things Sri Lankan, we refuse to learn from the experience of other nations, particularly those that encounter problems with animals and birds of various descriptions using the tarmac intended for humans in automobiles only.

    Also, if SOMEBODY who had responsibility for the basic planning of this road had checked on how highways are constructed in the USA or Canada (God forbid!), for instance, they would not have made such very significant errors as not providing a wide enough shoulder on which to park a vehicle safely!

    But this is the Miracle of Asia and we even have to re-invent the English language to put on the column that proclaims this “Super Highway” (Check it if you don’t believe me)!

    • Sadun

      Good Article, thanks for posting.

      Concerning the stray dogs issue, RDA could have installed some form of chain fencing beside the safety barriers, might have cost a little bit more, but its not that expensive and would save the lives and injuries. Birds will prevail for some time until the road is used by more vehicles and the resultant noise drives them away from it.

      Another thing I have noticed is that Bridge Piers are in some places too close to the road shoulder and some form of rubberised guards would reduce collision impact in case of an accidents.

      May be with the second phase they could add a police/emergency lane or a more widened shoulder to the road.

      • Jack

        They all ready have a net/mesh along with rails. Problem is these dogs jump over it !!

  • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

    I think the animal and bird problem will lessen as more of them are killed and the rest learn to stay off the highway. The same goes for motorists. European and American highways too cut through wild areas, but don’t seem to have this wildlife problem (although predatory birds nest alongside the highways and use it as a fast-food outlet bringing them regular roadkill). Of course those highways regularly pass over secondary roads which create culverts that the animals learn to use. Optionally, the Army could set up a Highway Hunting Club that can patrol the road and shoot anything that doesn’t have at least four wheels. Might be worthwhile examining how india has tackled these problems too.

    • Asad Asad

      Even in US and Canadian highways, I have seen many animals killed on the road. So there will be some casualities here as well. Those who do 140kmph will also learn it hardway of course they will not learn as they are not likely to survive. So same with highways in other countries. Nothing special in Sri Lanka

    • http://n/a HolmungP

      David, love the Highway hunting club idea.. :)

      but on a more serious note, wish they could’ve had perhaps tagged some mesh onto the side crash bar/fence along, to prevent stray dogs coming onto the roads.

      ironic really, that our nation focus’ waay more attention on the value of animals over human-life. And along this thinking, we dont permit effective remedies to the control of this stray-dog menace. We would rather they be left alone, to be hit by cars, suffer, carry rabies, increase cases of rabies-bites, increase costs to the govt. of treating these dog bites. – all largely because we are sooo focused on apparent cruelty to animals.
      to ramble on, the news papers we read on almost daily basis how our brothers and sisters wouldn’t think twice abt. hacking to death their own families/ neighbors over property disputes etc. The suicide rates too indicate how low down we value human life, compared to the focus on animal cruelty! :)
      just think abt. it.

    • http://jestforkicks.blogspot.com Jack Point

      I think the dogs are going to cause quite a few accidents before some action is taken, they cause enough on ordinary roads as it is.

      The simplest thing is to send a couple of dog catching vans and to catch the lot of them, before someone gets killed.

      India tried something like what they are doing here; catch, neuter release. The result is that Delhi has a stray dog population of some 300,000. Not sure if they have any special programme for highways.

    • Against Fraud

      Here goes Mr. Blacker with yet another of his poorly-disguised defences of a corrupt regime!
      His contention that animals learn through experience to avoid motor vehicles is unadulterated nonsense, totally untrue. The mitigating methods adopted in countries where non-human intrusion on highways is a problem are too numerous to list here but are no great secret.
      This is a serious business that doesn’t lend itself to the poppycock about hunting clubs in a country where even ritual killing of animals in places of worship is a “no-no” and stopped by extra-judicial means.

      • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

        I drove down to Galle on Sunday morning, and came back Monday afternoon, and did not see a single dog, monitor, or any other animal on the road, alive or dead. Pair of birds swooped dangerously low once, but that was it. Did the same trip just after Christmas, and did see dogs, monitors and other animals, both living and dead, as well as a dead peacock. Guess the animals do learn.

        Also saw cops patrolling on big Suzuki bikes, and speed checks. They clocked me thrice at 130kmph, 140kmph, and 150kmph, but didn’t stop me. Saw a police car going meticulously at a 100kmph, while car after car overtook it, everyone breaking the speed limit, with no effect.

  • Asela, Florida, USA

    Great article! Most of us Sri Lankans here in US who are working in the transportation field will appreciate this article, so thanks!

    Now, on the dog issue, one commenter above is correct- dogs will learn it the hardway and will avoid the highway eventually. Here, even with all the good fences, you see deer and other smaller animal dead on FL-US highways regularly. So it will be hard to avoid the dog issue completely even with good fences.

    On fog, an alert system (dynamic sign boards) will be necessary as fog can be very dangerous.

    No doubt this highway will be a good learning experience to all but unfortunately that will come at a huge cost. But Sri Lankan are versatile and smart and sure will learn quick and come up with local solutions!

  • muzammil

    Not having proper shoulder is,a serious engineering failure which has
    gone a long way without attention.I remember many had pointed this out.
    Dogs will definitely learn to cope up with emerging trends.One has to
    worry about the old Galle road accidents as well because of less traffic here that will lead to higher speeds to catch up with the express way without a fee.Unless strict controls applied until users get trained,the purpose of this new experience can become less useful.

  • sabbe laban

    One thing for sure is that the Sri Lankan dog would never learn just like its master! On the other issues maybe the Chinese have told not to learn lessons from the imperialists! Issuing tickets seems to be so time consuming in the Punyabhoomiya, wow!

    • Kondaya

      What do you want to say?

  • Nihal Perera

    Congratulations to MR and Co: this sounds like the first ever natural habitat + highway + pet the dog (all three combined into one) venture ever! The only question I would raise is how long the highway will last; a highway requires periodic maintenance; hopefully the management will not go the way of the CEB. And hopefully they will charge everyone the same rate at the toll-booths.

    • yapa

      Dear Nihal Perera;

      You think the western model of development is bad when it is adopted by MR?

      I can remember you have been advocating and prescribing it for the whole universe as “the” model.

      What made you change your unyielding mind? Unconquerable MR?

      Thanks!

  • Lankan Thinker

    One further observation regarding the safety features of the expressway – from the photographs above, there don’t appear to be any reflective markers indicating the lane positions or the edges of the carriageway. Additionally, the road is not lit. Whilst the latter omission is probably a valid one given the energy consumption and maintenance costs associated with lighting, the lack of high-visibility reflectors might become a safety problem. This is because the lack of visibility aids means that night time drivers will have to be particularly careful since, when driving at 100 kmph, the forward illumination afforded by the vehicle’s headlights does not reach far enough ahead to see upcoming bends in the road.

  • http://deleted niranjan

    The dogs will remain on the highway in the years to come. They find the roads comfortable to sleep on. There are still plenty of dogs on the old roads as well and those roads have been in use for years.

    • http://n/a HolmungP

      [Edited out.] We cant compare the two. those roads dont require you to cruise at 80+ Kmph. they permit you to sway/swing [Edited out.] and avoid knocking down the dog. there is a higher chance of a mega accident if we instinctively do that on this highway.

      just as a matter of interest, those ‘old’ roads are the contribution of the much maligned colonial masters to SL. this one is on our own initiative, something the masses who voted in the ruling regime can be really proud about. not that the rest of us are not.

      Peace!

  • Tharind

    One option to reduce the bottleneck caused by toll collecting is to implement an electronic toll colecting system. These are preferred to manual toll collection in most Western countries. All vehicles will need to have electronic tags attached them. The tags basically work like bank cards, and an account will have to be set up for each tag. The vehicle owner will need to make sure that the tag’s account contains sufficient funds for a given trip. The toll will be collected electronically, as the cars pass by toll collection points in the expressway. This means the journey is not slowed down at all.

  • Dr. Sarath Joshua

    Thanks for a nice article on the new expressway. I have watched, from far away, the development of this first expressway in Sri Lanka with a lot of excitement for what this new phase means to the country. I have also watched with much interest the preparations by authorities to ensure the safety of folks who will be travelling on this new road. I am a transportation engineer/planner with over 30 yrs of experience in road safety and traffic technology practicing in the USA. Based on my limited vantage point of this new development, I would like to make just one recommendation at this time to: road authorities, police, print and broadcast media. Please launch a coordinated public education campaign, with a unified message, to educate drivers and all other vehicle occupants on basic road safety measures. Such a campaign would include some basic do’s and don’ts regarding traveling on expressways and also any roads in general. The need to use seat belts by all occupants – not just the driver and front seat passenger. These road safety messages could go out as Public Service Announcements on TV and radio (I heard one on GoldFM). I have written previously about he need to do this before opening the road, but better late than never. I understand that there have been many articles written in the newspapers etc. They do help but at times such articles can also cause confusion. I am referring here to a unified message developed by a group of road safety experts in the country who understand the subject.

    • Nithyananthan

      It’s a productive premonition and a very useful piece of suggestion / advice from a knowledgeable and experienced Highway Traffic Safety Engineer. In addition to his, I too wish to recommend – as measure of loss prevention – instituting a system of mandatory periodical Safety Inspection as regard to the Visionary & Physical Disability & Stability, Safe Driving / Driver Improvement Courses and imposing penalties and revoking / impounding driving licenses for Traffic violations and offenders. Thank you Dr. Sarath! Nithy!

  • M. Arunan

    Well animals apart, hope they get to know soon and stay away, and let not what happens anywhere else happen in Sri Lanka to them.

    Importantly the humans must not get too excited on the less crowded road and drive beyond limit. Practice safe driving for the sake of animals as well as humans. Even with little rain, caution needed in smooth road with lots of curves etc.

  • Pradeep

    Good article. I drove on E 01 on the very first day at night. It was raining and traffic too was relatively heavy. Wished there were lights, at least far apart. But reflectors were very effective. Of course, all Interchanges were well illuminated. I was particularly pleasantly surprised to note almost all drivers were using the Outer lane, whilst Inner one for overtaking only. RDA’s public awareness program has been rather effective. Yes, dogs are an issue. There is mesh grill on both sides, but stray dogs seem to find space from bottom of the mesh. Hardly a shoulder on numerous bridges/underpasses and that certainly requires best of concentration and skillset at 100Kmph. It was such a pleasant feeling to travel to Galle and back in couple of hours. Fantastic infrastructure that makes you feel proud. Said this, an Expressway will not deliver its full potential if there are no large scale manufacturing or services at the other end. Hopefully Hambantota port will be operational soon and industrial parks are in the Drawing boards.     

  • http://tdevinda.blogspot.com Tharaka

    Google Maps will feature E01 very soon. Its in Map Editor and its done well by some good editors. Sad thing is that its under review yet. Will try the best to get it to the live map ASAP. If you are a map editor, please look into the matter and comment to make the road live soon.

  • Robin Appaswamy

    For the love of God people please enjoy this awsome highway. We can find fault with anything. Sri Lanka will learn from this a make it better going forward but at least we have taken that first step.

    [Edited out.]

  • Keerthy Silva

    Sri Lanka needs discipline in every sphere. Road discipline leads the list and has to improve in leaps and bounds.

    Hopefully the introduction of expressways will cut a path towards road discipline. Otherwise the cost, in terms of lives lost, will be enormous. Make no mistake, Speed Kills.

    If overspeeding is not banished, this road has the potential to turn into a bigger killer than the war.

    May this expressway join Sri Lankan history as the road that brought discipline to Sri Lankan roads.

  • Selvan Mather

    A great project.
    Has it got speed cameras like in England.
    It has made a lot of money in the first few days in Srilanka.
    Make more money from the speeding and all will drive slowly.

    Selvan Mather

  • Dagobert

    Lets hope the proposed Colombo-Jaffna Highway would be even better.
    Just can’t wait for it to happen…………………..

  • Wallflower

    The inspection of vehicles is most wanting at both ends. The driver of every vehicle entering the highway should have at least three years of experience. Driving at night at the given limit is not at all safe since running over a porcupine or wild boar at that speed could have dire consequences.The surface for road holding is good even at 180 Kmph. during the day. The distance between two vehicles should be at least 4 or 5 seconds. A great time saver plus a very pleasant drive through real villages.

  • Sanjaya Jayaratne

    I have gone on this highway around 10 times so far. Following are my comments.

    01 In the early morning around 04.00 am, there are birds on the road between Kottawa and Gelanigama. Drive carefully.

    02 In the night, I was able to drive at 100 km/h with normal headlights on my car. High beam disturbs the drivers on the opposite direction, but most drivers drive on such a way without a reason.

    03 With heavy rain in the night (around 8.00 pm), I was able to drive safely between Galle and Dodangoda. I did not felt uncomfortable and tried up to 100 km/h, but never tried braking. When entering the highway I just asked whether it is skidding during heavy rain, and the ticketing officers reply was, “No sir, but drive safely…” with a friendly smile.

    04 Last week I atend to a funaral near highway, in Nagoda (Kalutara)- Neboda road. THat is 07th km post on that road. I had to go on a small road on the boundaryof highway to a small hill. I saw myself that a person looking after a heard of goats was putting some of his gots to the highway reservation and taking out some goats.

    05 Seen Highway maintenance team clearing the bodies of animals periodically. It is also a dangerous work as our drivers drive carefully, which can harm the crew at anytime.

    06 Always the ticketing officers and Police officers at couters were with a friendly smole and with a helpful giudences (when required). Its great. Please maintain it….

    07 Wish to thank all who attended to making this great work a reality. Only they cannot maintain it properly. Its all of our responsibility to do our part corectly.

    08 For an average petrol car with automatic gears (say with 1200 -1600 cc engines), it is most suitable to drive 80 – 95 km/h for a better fuel economy. Diesel cars may vary according to turbo features.

    09 Remember, we Sri Lankans believe that lives are more valuable than physical assets. So drive carefully and safely. Eevn road crossing creatures can be saved while enjoying a faster and safer journey if you do so. remember all others are driving with care and awith a safer distance. However never try to change lanes without a proper plan. I have such experiences while on E-01.

    Now we have it. Pls use it properly. Running high speed does not means good driving. There are many things to be considered befor fly with you vehicle……

  • Proud Sri Lankan Always

    No Matter What The Government Does People have something to complain. . . Get a Life People. . . Always Learn to Appreciate What they Have done which we spend more time Travelling to a particular destination. . . people learn from mistakes and government is aware of what is happening too. . . they will take time to correct things up. . . so just enjoy what we have and be proud to be a sri lankan. . . :D