Is it going to be another disaster and white elephant?
Plans are said to be underway to construct a 5.5 km long tunnel from Suduhumpola to Tennekumbura on the left bank of the Kandy Lake as a utopian solution to Kandy traffic congestion. The proposed tunnel starts at Suduhumpola and comprises four tunnels on plan. Tunnel one is 900 m; Tunnel 2 is 660 m; Tunnel 3 is 1,120 and Tunnel 4 is 1,680 m with two openings in between; the first at the upper end of Bogambara grounds and the second at the upper end of Kandy Lake, facilitating connections to the existing city road network.
Tunnel 1 runs through a relatively less developed area with a big slope. Tunnel 2 runs above the General Hospital below the IFS up to the upper end of Bogambara grounds. Both tunnels 1 and 2 traverse through highly earth slip prone and heavily settled zones. Tunnel 3, I think, is the most critical zone as it runs through a highly developed area sloping towards and overlooking the historical Kandy Lake and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. Among other important institutions is the historic Malwatta Temple, the Head Quarters of Theravada Buddhism not only in Sri Lanka but in the entire world. This area is the most heavily built up luxury residential area with tourist guest houses with high rising storied buildings on extremely sloping and earth slip prone land. All these three tunnel cut across the foot hills of Hanthana range. The last and the fourth tunnel (1,680m) runs under the Dharmaraja hill and it appears to run along the trend of the land. Comparatively, it is the least settled and least developed area. As such, while earth slips and environmental problems in this part should be hopefully minimal. Even compensation for buildings could be much less in this part as the entire extent is running deep under the ridge upto Tennekumbura bridge outlet and even the number of buildings here are comparatively less and not palatial either.
Considering the physical terrain and the geological structure of the major part of the tunnel trace, as a lay citizen I expect serious problems to crop up. This is especially so when one think of the lessons learned from the Uma Oya Project. The physical instability of the area might give way and as a result if the whole or part of the area in tunnel 3 area together with some of the buildings, collapse, the possibility of the Kandy Lake getting wiped out along with the Malwatta Temple cannot be ruled out as a mere guess.
Beside such catastrophes one wonders whether the enormous cost that is going to be incurred for feasibility studies, construction and maintenance and compensation for buildings and other damages over time probably exceeding USD 500 m also has to be seriously considered compared with the benefit expected. I read in papers that already South Korea has agreed to provide a loan of USD 200 m for this work. Mind you this has to be paid back in hard currency! At a time when the country is said to be overburdened with paying billions and trillions of rupees as loan installments is it advisable to take further loans for projects of this nature? At a time we are talking about preserving the heritage of the Kandy city isn’t it advisable that we go for less expensive and environmentally and physically less harmful projects to solve the problem Kandy is faced with. In any case, a 5.5 km-long tunnel of that magnitude in my opinion is a luxury for a country like ours. Therefore, I would like to propose an alternative solution.
I would like to repeat the following proposal, I made in 2010, for the serious consideration of authorities
Beside the minor improvements in traffic management required both in infrastructure and management within the city the following measures could be considered.
1. Open up four bus terminuses on the outskirts of the city at Peradeniya, Katugastota, Tennekumbura and Ampitiya for all the incoming buses from the hinterland.
2. Start a town bus service by the KMC for people to reach the city.
3. Have a separate school bus service run by the KMC to pick up all schoolchildren from present school vans and buses at the bus terminuses that will have parking facilities for school vans as well.
4. Shift all whole sale activities to Katugastota and Pallekele so that congestion in the town could be minimized.
(These few steps alone will reduce the traffic jam in the city and near the schools at least by 75 %)
5. Have a master circular Kandy city road connecting Peradeniya, Katugastota, Tennekumbura and Ampitiya. This could be done by improving the existing Peradeniya-Katugastota- Tennekumbura (either via Polgolla or via Polgolla bridge Aruppola connecting Lewella with Tennekumbura by a new road along the RB of Mahaweli). To link Peradeniya with Tennekumbura you can improve the Rajapihilla Mawatha on the upper side of the Kandy lake firstly by linking it up by a road connecting Sudahumpola with Reservoir road by a new link road constructed through lower Hanthana above the Kandy Hospital with a bridge over the Dunumandalawa Reservoir dam. This also could be made use of to redo the Dunumandalawa Reservoir dam currently in a bad condition. Ampitiya end could be linked with Tennekumbura with a suitable point on the Kandy Talatuoya road using a shorter tunnel. The section of the tunnel proposed under the Suduhumpola –Tennekumbura Project is 5,544 feet,that is 264 ft longer than a mile.
6. Widen the Queens Hotel Junction-Wase Park-Ampitiya junction and link up this road with the Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha with an overhead bridge (Four lane)opposite the Mahanayaka Nila Nivasa, being the narrowest point in the Wewa, to overcome the problem caused by the closure of the Maligawa road.
7. Join the Tricommallee Street with the Dharmasoka Mawatha on the other side of the Udawattakele with a tunnel (2 lane) starting near the Kandy Town Hall.
8. Improve the Kandy railway service with two track lines between Gampola, Kaduganawa and Wattegama and with a new line linking Mawilmada with Pallekele via Tennekumbura on the Mahaweli RB.
These proposals will need much less money and definitely minimise environmental, physical and social problems.
For these reasons I am of the opinion that we must go for a less dangerous and less expense solution to the traffic congestion in this city, Care should be taken to avoid more bungling as we have already made enough.
Finally, I would request the government to first discuss this proposal in detail with the Mahasangha of Asgiriya and Malwatta Chapters and other responsible citizens in the area before approving the project.