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.