It's a bit strange that Sri Lankans queue up to visit a highway as if it's a new national monument, but in a way it is. Built largely by China in time for the Commonwealth Heads Of Government meeting, this expressway is long overdue. Travelling to the airport, before this, has involved navigating the treacherous, congested and highly populated Negombo Road. This could take anywhere from 45 minutes at night to hours during rush hour. Now the driving itself takes less than 15 minutes.
The only issue is that the expressway starts in Peliyagoda, at the edge of Colombo North, which is itself at least half an hour from Colombo South. The whole system won't really make sense until the Outer Circular Expressway gives some more entry points.
But anyways, here's our review of... a road.
The Katunayake Expressway is different in that you don't get a ticket entering it from the airport or Colombo, you only pay (and queue) upon exit. You do get a ticket from Ja-Ela, but besides that there's no gate, you just turn and drive onto the highway. We entered from the Negombo Road. You can get on/off right in front of the airport as well, that's where the highway absolutely ends. Entering at about 7 PM we saw a kilometre long line of cars queueing to pay the Rs. 300 toll and laughed at them, thinking we were very smart to be going the other way. We weren't, there was traffic at both ends.
What to say, it's a really nice road. The lanes are wider than the sometimes claustrophobic Southern Expressway and there is also more room along the sides if you ever need to pull over. In some parts there are even solar powered emergency phones. The speed limit is 80 km at the entries and 100 km throughout. From just the first day, there was more traffic than the Southern Expressway ever has, but a lot of that was road tourists like us. On an average day, however, we think this routes will still be more popular.
The main thing about the road is that it's really short. We drove at night and didn't see much, but you can presumably get a good sunset view there. There'd only be a 15 minute window thought, the ride is over that fast.
As you leave you pay the toll, Rs. 300 for cars. They have about 6 tollbooths at the Colombo end (our guess, didn't count), which should be good enough for the three lanes (it's two lanes on the main highways, three as it ends). There are exits at Ja-Ela, Peliyagoda and the New Kelani Bridge (Colombo limits). As mentioned, Ja-Ela is the only place with an entry gate, otherwise you just get on and cruise.
We had to wait 15 minutes, about the length of the drive, and there were about seven staff in the tollbooth, not speeding things up. We assume this will get more efficient.
That's about all there is to it. It's a great, short, fast road. At Rs. 1.8 billion per kilometre (45.7 billion total) it's a very expensive road on a Chinese loan, but it's certainly makes life a lot easier. Now the airport and Negombo are much closer than they were before, and the expressway is an attraction in and of itself.
They've started 'luxury' bus service along the expressway as of today.
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