The Sunday Leader

Astronomical Fly-Over Costs

By Raisa Wickrematunge

The government last week answered a question posed by UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake in parliament which raised quite a few eyebrows.
The question was regarding the cost of construction of several overhead bridges. The government has been more than active when it comes to large-scale development projects, particularly flyovers. Most of the flyovers have been built using prefabricated steel and as a result built in double quick time.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing in particular, except that the Highways Ministry admitted that they could have built the same structures, using cement, at half the cost.
For instance, the Kelaniya flyovers cost Rs. 887 million each. The two flyovers therefore cost Rs. 1774 million in total. The cost for a cement/concrete structure? Rs. 850 million in total. In short, if cement had been used, both flyovers could have been constructed for less than the cost of a single steel flyover. Similarly, the Nugegoda flyover cost Rs. 772 million, when a cement structure would have cost just Rs. 341 million. For Dehiwala, the cost was Rs. 991 million, as opposed to just Rs. 450 million for cement.
In fact, the total cost of the Dehiwala, Kelaniya and Nugegoda flyovers combined to Rs. 3537 million, for which the government obtained an HSBC loan under British Government financial assistance.
Also noteworthy is the fact that while cement/concrete structures have a minimum life span of a hundred years, the steel alternate has a life span half that.
So why choose a structure which is so much more expensive? The economy might be growing, thriving even, after the end of the war. That doesn’t negate the fact that Sri Lanka is still millions of rupees in global debt. Expensive development projects, even with financial assistance, will hardly help the situation.  So what was the reason given? Simple — speed.
Secretary, Highways Ministry, Wasantha Karannagoda said that, despite the fact the steel structures cost one and a half times more, project completion was much faster. Concrete flyovers would have taken at least a year to complete. A maximum of three to four months was needed to complete the flyovers using steel. A cost-benefit analysis revealed that there would be substantial savings on fuel and vehicle operating costs, Karannagoda said. “The earlier the better. Why not reap the benefits earlier?” the Secretary said. He added the fuel and vehicle cost savings (not to mention the time saved) when working with steel offset the higher total cost.

42 Comments for “Astronomical Fly-Over Costs”

  1. P.L.J.B.Palipana

    When we travel through a Sky Train in British Columbia, Canada it is really a joy for life to see very elegant Steel Bridges in the Green Envirnment. The bridges are constructed using modern architectural concepts.

  2. fresh_milk

    Get real Raisa Wickrematunge! It is a fine balance between rapid development and cost.Of course, rapid development comes at a price. It’s because of people along your line of thinking that is obstructing the development of our country.
    Please do us and our country a favour by giving up journalism if you have nothing to write about.

    • jjaud

      Trust but verify. This should be the opposition mantra. Quick progress is good but we don’t want the goodness to be the object of lining ones pocket.

  3. Sabs

    look sunday leader dont be rude for everything what government does they are trying to bring the country back please support them in one way atleast to build countries economy or lead the people in right path….:(

  4. Psycho

    So whats the problem Raisa, either do it quickly or do it in another 100 years time.
    Time is money.

  5. P.L.J.B.Palipana

    Actually Raisa’s article has an impeccable importance. In SriLanka the engineers, architects and town planners must get together to produce an environmental friendly good product. Our engineers think they are superiors to others and undermine the services of other parties to a project.

    • Olmorondan

      How bad those SL engineers who ignore the valuable knowledge & experience of Mr. Palipana of Canada who built the sky train of British Colombia.

  6. Pot Stirrer

    Well, the cost depends on how much officials can “milk” out of each project. Higher the cost better the “kick backs” We all must get used to it because this Government’s Policy is ” Development through Corruption” As long as the world famous “Dr” is in charge you will see projects after projects with a high cost.s

  7. P.L.J.B.Palipana

    I know very well the high way projects of SriLanka during the past 25 years. The high corruption was promoted by Government Officers and not politicians. This is the reality.

  8. Confucius




    • Ela Kolla

      It’s not about blaming the government. but practically if you look at it the concrete structures take longer BUT have a much higher life span, as for the figures I don’t think the writer is assuming them cos the “Secretary, Highways Ministry, Wasantha Karannagoda said – despite the fact the steel structures cost one and a half times more” so the writers math is right OR the secretary Highways ministry guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. What are the benefits? saves time, easy on your vehicle, that’s about it right? now look at the detriment, 1 2/1 time higher cost, lesser life span which means a poor product, which is going to cost more to maintain. So you people who are looking for a quick growth are basically not thinking 10years ahead, you are only thinking about YOU not the future of the country as a whole. It’s a band aid for a gunshot wound… Cheers…

    • kaju

      Since all these projects done in a hurry. As usual some of this cost surely might be gone to deep pockets of Polititians who initiated these projects! Its the typical nature of Sri Lankan politics.Obtain high interest loans which will paid by future generations and keeping a good portion of that in their private accouts. I don’t think these bridges were constructed after calling for tenders.Thats the real problem.Not building bridges but huge commissions those corrupt shameless politicos take of these projects.
      Surely these projects are viable.But what about other projects like Matara, Colombo highway, Mattala Airport. Do Sri Lanka being a small country needs such grand projects at this stage.But still Colombo Kandy highway has only two lanes.I dont thik so! Those projects are eating Billions which could have been used to build and repair hospitals, roads, and schools.Then future generations will be benefited ! Sadly the polititians of this country think about only the commission not the viability! cos they are corrupt and brainless. What a waste!

  9. JAY

    commission hora Basil and raja has taken significant amout of commissioi out of these contacts leaving preanuts for doggy construction work.

    • Jay Ranaweera

      What a shame to accuse Basil & raja about commissions as if seen accepting such amounts? These people have not learnt a lesson still as such mud slinging campaign during the elections period by RW,Mangala,Ravi,SF etc etc brought their own downfall.LEARN A LESSON MAN!!!

    • kaju

      Not only that how about useless air port at mattala.Colombo Matara highway, which charges a commission from vehicles! Jokes ne! They think Sri Lanka is a developed country like Thailand and Malaysia. While majority of populace is stuggling to live.Politicos initiate useless projects inorder to collect commission victimising Our future generations. I think people of all walks of life should oppose to these projects since its a waste of money. If its for tourism its useless. Why tourists come here to enjoy nature and culture. Not to land in an Airport which built near the boader of a National park! And they should travel by road to see that!

      • pingona

        your statement has no logic.

        If they think sri lanka is a developed country they wouldn’t be developing infrastructure anymore. the fact is they ARE DEVELOPING AND PEOPLE LIKE IT (though it may be painful to a very few people like you).

        Also you say tourists must travel by road to enjoy sri lanka…. SO THEY BUILD FLYOVERS TO EASE TRAFFIC… AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.

        so simple…

  10. Leslie

    What rubbish is Ravi talking… it seems that he is against fly overs. You were responsible for the closure of Sathosa and having many people go without jobs. Lets be happy that the country now developing than having ideas as to when could I take over a portfolio and start lining my pockets once again.

  11. I Hussein

    I dont see anything wrong in these fly overs developments. Steel bridges are much better than the ugly (poor lookng due to umproffesional workmanship) cement structures. Cost is more but faster.
    Cant balme ! Rasing eyebrows for nothing. Ravi should come out with something significant.

  12. Moda sinalaya that is how they can make mo money by using cheap material , they dob’t care about the life span of these bridges as long as they get asignificant amount of dollars in to their foreign accounts.This hors will do any thing to expan his wealth here and overseas.

  13. perumal

    Did you raise your voice against waste & corruption in accelerated mahaweli project in 1980s. When a project is accelerated a certain degree of waste/corruption is unavoidable.

    • USA

      yes…but then Gosl did not have the policy on first family gets 10% on all projects
      now in billions and million over thousand and Lacks back in 80″s

  14. Concrete flyovers??? Poooh…. They might look cheap if not built like flyovers in Dubai. Who has money to built such flyovers in SL. Steel flyovers are fine. Ravi must find something else to debate next time.

    • Jay Ranaweera

      Yes Nana many do not realise the amount of SPACE needed for concrete flyovers in addition to the TIME. Ravi is a dirty corrupted UNPer who sold the SATHOSA to his henchmen and put thousands of employees to the streets, NOW PREACHING VEDI BANA.

  15. saraprobe

    This stupid paper always against Gov ( even for a good cause)& no wonder why hate this paper!

  16. Buddhadasa

    We should not argue for political gains, instead we should see the economic gains to each other construction techniques. I believe either of us whom have commented on this page so far are not financial experts to compared exact cost analysis or long term financial savings. However, by considering these two costs and technologies through my little brains, I think that the Cement bridges will have long term benefit to the economy compared to steel bridges. As we have waited for decades without such an infrastructure, why can’t we wait for another couple of months extra and have solid cement bridges. I know that we Sri Lankans always prefer to have ‘instant products’ but ‘Better late than never’

    • kaju

      Yes sir! but what about the commissions which has gone to politicos and companies out of public money? Are these actual costs? Only time will tell! What about useless MataraColombo highway. which still unable to open after nearly a decade after incepction. What about Matta “International ” Airport.
      Do we need another” International” airport in this tiny island? That too destroying wildlife in the area.So close to yala national park? Things should develop but at a rate appropriate to our country and economy. We shouldnt spend what we cannot afford in the name of development! Just because war is finished that doesn’ mean that everythings right.And we should resort to mega developments like in Developed countries! while majority of populace struggle!

  17. P.L.J.B.Palipana

    Please refer the book;
    Small book “Small is Beautiful”- by E.F.Schumacher
    286pages, Harper Perenial
    1. The Problem of Production
    2. Peace and Permanence
    3.The Role of Economics
    4.The Buddhist Economics
    5.A Question of Size




    • pingona

      please refer to “MAHINDA CHINTHANAYA” by Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksha
      pages: 1 to the last.
      … before reading irrelevant material and dreaming.
      local is beautiful!

  18. P.L.J.B.Palipana

    Mr.Buddhadasa you are absolutely correct. T.Y.Lin produced vast amount of Concrete (prestress and post tensioned) over the USA during the past 60 years, Really there is no real cost comparison of the two Engineering Materials.

    • Commentator

      Think of Nugegoda flyover. If it is a concrete structure, most probably we must close the entire road for a year or more but it is not practical because we do not have detour access. We must consider practicability too. Cost is not everything. Anybody remember how long it took to complete Dematagoda flyover and the difficulties people faced?
      Not insulting our civil engineers – but some bridges and construction works took more than decade to complete. I used to travel frequently on Badulla road – Kuruwita bridge for example took more than decade to complete. Think of the cost of construction difference and the time and resources we were wasted.

      • NAK

        You are right concrete structures take ages to finish the Orugodawatte flyover took over five years construct. It is better if it can be done in concrete but as you said it is not always practical specially in the absence of alternate detours.The other I think is that the British government loan is for prefab steel bridges from a UK company and not for concrete bridges. All the development loans are like that, they give the money but one or more of their companies must benefit. Even Mahaweli project was like that remember Skanska, Balfor ect.Finally this whole argument is a waste. Ravi K has done nothing worth talking about he only knows to criticise others who do. Today people use these flyovers and save time and money.

  19. Lion

    When one compares alternatives, must compare all aspects, not just the cost, that includes economic as well as environmental benefits. I doubt in this case whether the authorities had undertaken such a comparison purely on merits and demerits of each alternative.

    Just one point I want to raise is the fact that in case of steel bridges the very high foreign component draws most of the fund back to foreign countries. In case of a cement concrete bridge, the local component is higher than foreign, hence the real cost to the economy is generally less.

  20. Nandaguptha

    Good to see that there are lot of people who understand the value of the development work in progress. Except very few I can see many readers are very analytical about the words coming out of people like Ravi K. who sold SATHOSA for peanuts to his friends. Also happy to see a good cost analysis by Confucius. The estimates in the article cannot be trusted. A two bedroom good apartment in Kollupitiya cost over 200 million rupees in Sri Lanka. This article talks more about Ravi K and his inability to understand the reality. Further do not blame the govt. officers for all the evil in the country. Since 1971 they suffered enough. IF you want to blame someone talk about JVP and LTTE, especially JVP who misguided the youth and created the biggest mess and pave the path to LTTE.

    • pingona

      well said!

    • I Hussein

      Good one, Mr Nandaguptha,
      I wonder how many would understand the real meaning of the last part of your comments. SL too a U turn and never have recovered since then.

  21. Hari

    Where did this guy get his figures from? They know only to critisize. Any real effective recommendations to develop the country?

  22. Common Sense

    Is the writer of article a qualified engineer or architect? Is Ravi Karunanayake an expert on engineering or materials cost assessments? If not, writer is filling up space with garbage to misinform public in expectation of pandemonium and revolt. Concrete vs Prefab steel construction have both plusses and minusses. In fact, Concrete costs more than steel prefab. Hence the reason why builders of tall buildings (NY, Dubai) do a pre-fab steel structure and clad the exterior with pre-fab concrete and glass panels to reduce cost. If any of those buildings were done with ALL CONCRETE, the costs and weight would be enormous and the ROI (return on Investment) would drop.
    Newspaper writers should write responsibly after verifying and confirming facts before losing credibility in newsworthiness of their journals/papers.

  23. Parakrama

    The use of word “Astronomical” is an over-kill to talk about a cost over-run of 1.5 times!!

  24. Somapala

    I feel rather sorry about the writers who do not understand that concrete bridges which could be built with local and foreign construction companies cost less than half the price paid to Mabey & Johnson. Mabey Johnson had been blacklisted in many developing countries for high level bribery and has been penalised by the Serious Fraud office in UK. You could get more information about these large scale thieves from the web, by typing ” Mabey & Johnson fraud”
    Precast concrete technology is highly developed in Sri Lanka for the past fifty years. For example majority of the Sri Lankan bridge structures and also the Khettarama stadium although not a bridge was built with precast technolgy.. What is required to do a project in time is money and the will of the politicians.

    • naribena

      if there were issues the opposition should have taken action before… not stage dramas after all the work (and presumed damage) was done. The opposition was busy in mud slinging at our own country with their international mafias and never ever said anything about these flyovers. so why cry now????
      Any ways we should now see the positive side. We have eased the traffic jams in a shorter period of time, (instead of years of construction, traffic mess, air pollution, waste of time waste of petrol etc etc) so we have saved all that which translate into milions of $$$s in foreign exchange… GO SRI LANKA.!!!

  25. P.L.J.B.Palipana

    I agree with you Mr.Lion. Former RCDC(Road Construction Development Company (pvt) Ltd. handled bridge construction all over the island and it took sometimes around 10 years to complete one bridge.So the Labour and Material cost incresed inmencely. As our gentlemen pointed out earlier we dont have real Financial Investigation up to now. But our population is re-paying the costs associated for those projects now-a-days.

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