Southern Expressway photo by Dhammika Heenpella
Took the Southern Expressway this weekend. These are my impressions. First – fast, empty, narrow and incomplete. It’s definitely fast, you can clock 120 without noticing it. It’s also really empty, saw what felt like 50 cars total. It’s also incomplete, not in that the road is incomplete, but in that it’s obviously part of a broader national highway system.
We took the Expressway going from Colombo to Matara. Getting from Colombo to the Kottawa interchange took a good hour and a half, but then the trip down the Expressway took just over an hour. The Pinnaduwa exit drops you basically in Unawatuna, but then it’s about another hour to Matara. Counting choo and food breaks, it took us about 4 hours, not a significant savings, but much more reasonable. You can get from Colombo to Matara in about five or six hours along the coastal road – if you drive like a crazy person, pass a hundred people and risk a fair amount of life. Now, once you get on the expressway, you just go.
Flatness Of Affect
A friend commented that this felt normal. Coming from America, is does. Everything looks purposefully built and not insane. There are no bullock carts, no kids playing on the road, there aren’t even any trishaws or motorcycles. It is a purpose driven road. This is also a bit of a strange experience. Travel in Sri Lanka usually involves taking roads that are not through cities and towns so much as a part of them. You have to pass through peoples lives, which is both dangerous and interesting.
On the Expressway it’s just a wormhole. You get in, pass a whole bunch of nothing, and then get out. The space in between is highly compressed and generic, you don’t experience space so much as time. You can get frustrated or infuriated on the Galle Road, but you rarely get bored. There are signboards to read, people to curse at, and you’re always within walking or looking distance from the sea. The Expressway can be boring.
Fast And Dangerous
I tried closing my eyes to sleep (wasn’t driving, rented a small bus) and I could feel the speed. It made me a bit uncomfortable. You’re effectively in a pipe most of the way, there isn’t much space on the shoulder and everything is railed in. If you blow a tire or get in an accident, you’ll just bounce around until you stop. Thankfully, there wasn’t much traffic at all, but it’s still a new sensation.
As it is, you have to connect to the Expressway through Kottawa, which means effectively going through Maharagama. Maharagama has insanely bad traffic going in to it and getting to the interchange will take you longer than the next 100k down south. This sorta works for people in Battaramulla and environs, but not really for everybody else.
As you enter the Expressway, however, you can see the next road their constructing, the outer circular road around Colombo which should connect to the airport. In that context, it all starts to make sense. Then people from Colombo can get on at any number of exits, and tourists and businesspeople can skip Colombo entirely if they desire.
Generally, quite impressed. Battaramulla and Unawatuna are now effectively next to each other. The road itself is noticeably narrow, but also noticeably well built and, above all, modern. Sometimes you travel and you get to a road or something and you’re like, this feels normal, as in, this is the international standard that’s been setup for road transport and you get the same feeling as in an airport. ie, there may be different things on the end of these pipes but the pipes are the same. This is the first time I’ve gotten that feeling in Sri Lanka.
This really does open up a lot more of the country for travel, commuting and business. It also sorta furthers the class break going on whereby the minority of car owners get privileges over the masses that take public transit, motorbikes or trishaws. However, this road will make traffic on the Galle Road less I think, so in that way benefit everyone. At the least, however, I hope they start running a specialized bus service soon. A one hour shot to Galle is no joke, even if it takes you an hour and a half to get started.