How Sri Lanka Is Not Fixing Its Transport Problem

Is giving America the finger worth $350 million?

Some proposed improvements to Colombo’s transport network

Colombo traffic sucks. Our traffic lights are dumb, so police have to stand in traffic directing things, occasionally getting run over by Defenders. Our bus network is neglected, so more and more people buy private cars, which just makes overall traffic worse.

If we don’t do anything, average speed within the city will hit 6 km per hour, emissions will triple and the average person will spend 2.5 hours in traffic. These projections are for 2020, so this is basically just now.

So are we doing something? Lol no. We have a $350 million grant and plans ready to roll, but our nutbag President and his Rajapaksa overlords are just using the whole thing as a political football.

Their story is that the Millenium Challenge Corporation is some American Trojan Horse, but the fact is that they’ll turn around and approve it as soon as the election is over. However, the money may not be there in a month, and our transport network may just be screwed for another generation.

It’s a cynical and stupid waste of money and time. While the country is stuck in traffic, the solution is stuck in politics.

How Traffic Sucks

This is Professor Amal Kumarage’s slide for how traffic will be in 2020, AKA now. It’s horrifying.

As I mentioned above, the time we spend on the road has basically doubled, our emissions have nearly tripled and the cost of mobility is rising to 25% of GDP. We have a bunch of vehicles burning fossil fuels, time and money in order to move people at a walking speed. This is an emergency.

Things have gotten so bad because we have not invested in public transportation and people just buy private vehicles to escape. This is a completely logical personal decision, but the result is a collective disaster.

As you can see, transporting people in private vehicles completely explodes your traffic situation. Which is what is happening in Colombo.

If only we had money, and a plan…

We Have Money And A Plan

Sri Lanka requested and received a $480 million USD Millenium Challenge Corporation grant from the USA. $350 million of this is allocated to transport. This includes:

  • $160 million for an Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS), which basically means NOT cops at intersections manually directing traffic. This includes intelligent lights and bus priority systems so traffic moves.
  • $50 million for bus modernization
  • $140 million for rural transport — upgrading roads in the Central, Sabaragamuwa, and Uva Provinces and connecting them with the Western Province.

The negotiations are already done, the President just has to give the final OK… but no. Him and the SLPP, specifically Wimal Weerawansa, have been spreading lies that this grant involves dividing Sri Lanka with some electrified railroad and giving land to America. Wimal was unfortunately born with only one orifice and only one thing comes out.

This is the same posturing the UNP pulled in the last election, acting like they’d cancel the Chinese funded Port City but turning around a year later with some token concession. Whoever is elected is just going to turn around and sign this thing, so they’re just wasting time. However, in this case Sri Lanka’s income status has changed and we may not even be eligible in December. This whole thing could go away.

Is America Taking Our Land?

The fuss is because the same grant allocates $67 million to land stuff. Specifically:

  • $23 million for an inventory of state lands
  • $11 million for digitizing land records
  • $7 million for building capacity of the valuation department
  • $19 million to convert properties from deeds to titles
  • $7 million to support research in the Land Policy Secretariat

None of this involves selling land to America or becoming a military base or any such nonsense. The SLPP has taken the conceptual idea of an economic corridor connecting Trinco to Colombo and reimagined this as an electrified rail line surrounded by American troops. Which is obviously not correct.

This is not even how America colonizes places, if they cared they’d just be drone bombing us and co-opting our leaders anyways. The American President can’t even find Colorado on a map, let alone Sri Lanka. We don’t have oil and they do not care. This is just a grant.

People have tied this to the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with America, which does concern troops and stuff, and which I oppose. But these are separate things. It has all just been wrapped up in a fantasy for political purposes.

Wimal is lying, and the SLPP and Sirisena know this. They are just holding up much needed development for a pointless election-time poke at America.

Back To Transport

The fact that we could and are just not fixing the traffic problem is criminal. This is even worse than the UNP’s Port City hold up because it strangles our existing city. The lost opportunity cost is Rs. 1.8 trillion. That’s nearly $10 billion dollars we’re losing just so politicians can front.

I trust America about as far as I can throw them, but in this case we should just take the money. This grant has been publicly negotiated and is administered through our own government. And it solves a very real problem, which we all experience.

It’s a terribly cynical ploy, holding our transport system hostage for an election. Like a government convoy, they are inconviencing everyone just so they can feel special. But they’re not special, they’re just assholes. We’re stuck in a traffic jam of stupid, and it looks like we won’t get out till the election gives someone a green light.

Written by

A writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He/him. indi@indi.ca. Videos: tiny.cc/indication and podcast: anchor.fm/indication. patreon.com/indication

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