The completion of Sri Lanka’s first expressway last month was a cause for celebration. Cricket games, a marathon, and even elephant races took place on the dual carriageway before the road was officially opened by the President.
The new road, which joins Colombo and Galle, is a symbol of Sri Lanka’s development ambition as it emerges from decades of conflict. There are other expressways on the drawing board and vast tourist complexes are taking shape along the country’s more remote coastline.
But it will take time for Sri Lanka to adapt. Coinciding with the Southern Expressway’s grand opening were awareness campaigns advising drivers how to drive on dual carriageways, and there are signs on all entrances to remind locals that three wheelers, bikes and hand tractors are prohibited.
I travelled the road for the first time this week. We started early and caught the sunrise and lingering patches of early morning mist. The road was empty and the route cut through mangrove forests and paddy fields. At regular intervals we had to slow for dogs that were sleeping on the warm tarmac. Some dogs hadn’t moved in time and their carcasses lay were they had been hit.
The journey was quick and comfortable, and the Southern Expressway will certainly open up the more remote beaches to the south-east. But it will take time for the country to adapt as it realises its development ambitions.