The Asian Development Bank (ADB) Board of Directors has approved a $ 300 million loan to Sri Lanka for the construction of an elevated highway linking the capital, Colombo, to a new bridge being constructed across the Kelani River.

The loan facility will finance the construction of about 5.3km of elevated toll highway with related facilities between the New Kelani Bridge (NKB) and Galle Face in central Colombo in Sri Lanka.

The new highway is expected to ease traffic congestion, improve connectivity, and facilitate trade logistics in the country, ADB said in a statement.

“Improved connectivity and infrastructure development are essential if Sri Lanka is to reach its potential as a trade and logistics hub in South Asia,” said ADB Senior Transport Specialist for South Asia Kanzo Nakai. “The new highway will help provide a direct link to the city centre and the Port from the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway through the NKB, improving connectivity and contributing to growth.”

In 2016, the Port of Colombo handled about 1.3 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of gateway container cargo, which could double to 2.5 million TEUs in 2030 as Sri Lanka continues to grow. The Port, however, is only serviced by a four-lane, ground-level access road passing through its main gate, which intersects with Baseline Road, one of the busiest trunk roads in Colombo. This leads to serious traffic congestion in the city and holds back trade and mobility.

The 5.3km elevated toll highway, to be built as part of the South Asian Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Port Access Elevated Highway Project, will include related road facilities including an advanced electronic toll collection (ETC) system, which will eventually be installed on the entire expressway network.

The Project will also upgrade 1.4km of the ground-level port access road from four to six lanes, while a maritime facilitation centre will be constructed to provide better services to port users and relocate and gather the administrative and operational functions of the Port, many of which will be affected by the construction of the elevated highway. The Project also contributes to regional connectivity and trade, in line with SASEC’s goals.

Additionally, ADB will provide a $ 500,000 technical assistance for the Expressway Operations Improvement component of the Project, which will strengthen the operational capacity of the expressway regarding its toll rate policy and the ETC system.

The Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, financed by the Government of Japan, will also provide a $ 1.25 million grant to support trade logistics facilitation for customs modernisation.

The total cost of the Project is $ 360.2 million, with the Government of Sri Lanka contributing $ 60.2 million. The Project is expected to be completed by mid-2025.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members – 48 from the region. In 2017, ADB operations totalled $ 32.2 billion, including $ 11.9 billion in co-financing.