Let us admit it, even grudgingly, that the Rajagiriya flyover helped ease traffic in and around the area. However, it also created a minus. The ease of traffic due to the flyover and its panoramic view tempted thousands of those who had been avoiding Rajagiriya, due to traffic snarls earlier, to venture into the route again. The number of vehicles down Kotte or Buthgamuwa Road rose once again and for a moment it looked that the flyover move was a flop.
Matters were made worse by the teething problems created by new traffic lights and the policemen deployed to smooth the traffic flow. The rate at which policemen manning traffic points was changed, was quite unprecedented. They were changed every other day and as a result no policeman was allowed to learn the ropes. This has been the case all the way up to Town Hall even to date. And motorists and bus passengers are kept wondering under what logic these placements are done. Confused policemen continue to create big traffic snarls all the way from Kotte to Colpetty and the traffic came to a virtual standstill in and around Rajagiriya on Monday due to this reason.
The other issue is the absence of a police officer to man Welikada junction which is without traffic lights. Despite repeated requests even by politicians, Welikada -- a crucial point where three routes meet -- is without a policeman and the daily traffic mess created especially during rush hours has seen even bus conductors directing traffic. Traffic jams create major issues not only in Rajagiriya and Welikada, but also in many other parts of Colombo; affecting various entrances to the capital.
Ten years ago a survey revealed that the country incurred a massive financial and man-hour loss due to traffic congestion as a result of the absence of proper vehicular traffic in Greater Colombo areas. In 2009, the loss was estimated at Rs. 32 billion per annum. University of Moratuwa Civil Engineering and Transport Expert Prof. Amal S. Kumarage revealed that the main reason for congestion was poor city planning, inappropriate public transport facilities and insufficient traffic system, which lead to waste of time, fuel and wear and tear of vehicles.
Prof. Kumarage stated that the country was losing 1.5% of the GDP due to traffic congestion as Sri Lanka’s road network in the city was incapable of handling increasing traffic flows at the rate that is demanded; which would be subject to a 10% increase per year.
Prof. Kumarage, who is highly qualified on the subject, in a newspaper interview in 2011, has said that the construction of flyovers is not a solution for traffic congestion at every location. “Flyovers are useful for particular problems, not as a solution for every location that has traffic congestion. In most cases they only transfer the problem to another place,” he noted.
He explained that the ad hoc construction of flyovers and highways would not provide a proper solution to the prevailing conditions of heavy traffic in the city of Colombo. Citing an example he noted that the Dehiwala flyover has failed to ease traffic on Galle Road. This area is still congested during peak hours even after the police made vehicles move one way in both lanes.
One of the major reasons identified by almost all parties is the increase of vehicles, entering the city. Unfortunately hardly any effort is taken by successive Governments to discourage too many private vehicles in cities and improve a people-friendly public transport system. Even though people like to be passengers in a peaceful public transport rather than be drivers on congested roads, they are not ready to use the unorganised, outdated, and overcrowded, public transport system in Sri Lanka.
As far back as 1960’s, tram cars, trolley buses, buses and railways were operated on city routes following proper timetables and meeting standards. For various reasons the country has gradually lost all these transport services and most importantly the trust people had in them.
It’s high time that politicians, policy makers and even the private sector, give top priority to the traffic congestion in Colombo and other cities, as we cannot give a real value to the man-hours we are wasting on the roads.