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About the Central Expressway

Under the directives of MoHEH, RDA has initiated a study to find out a suitable road corridor to construct the expressway from Kadawatha to Dambulla via Kurunegala under Central Expressway Project (CEP) with a link to Kandy under the phase 1 of the project, considering present and future development scenarios of the country. Under the phase 2 of the project, it is expected to extend the expressway to Northern and Eastern areas of the country. Under the phase 1, it is expected to start the Central Expressway at Kadawatha from Kadawatha – Kerawalapitiya section of OCH which is currently under construction. Subsequently the expressway will cross Gampaha, Meerigama, Kurunegala while ending at Dambulla. The Kandy link will branch off at Pothuhera and terminate at Galagedara which is about 10km away from Kandy City.

Phase 1 of the CEP has been subdivided in to four stages as follows;
  • Stage 1 – Kadawatha (0.0km) to Meerigama (37.1km)
  • Stage 2 – Meerigama (37.1km) to Kurunegala (76.8km) and Ambepussa link road (9.3km)
  • Stage 3 – Pothuhera (0.0km) to Galagedara (Kandy) (32.5km)
  • Stage 4 – Kurunegala (76.8km) to Dambulla (137.1km)

The former Northern Expressway Project (NEP) has now been renamed as “Central Expressway Project (CEP)” and its first section is to be commenced at Kadawatha on OCH phase – 3 and then to proceed up to Gampaha, almost following the earlier Colombo – Kandy, alternative Highway (CKAH) for which a feasibility study had been completed in 2001. Gampaha onwards CEP follows the same trace already being recognized for former NEP.The former Northern Expressway Project (NEP) has now been renamed as “Central Expressway Project (CEP)” and its first section is to be commenced at Kadawatha on OCH phase – 3 and then to proceed up to Gampaha, almost following the earlier Colombo – Kandy, alternative Highway (CKAH) for which a feasibility study had been completed in 2001. Gampaha onwards CEP follows the same trace already being recognized for former NEP.

Overview of Central Expressway Section I

With an end to internal conflicts in the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka, the government recognized the importance of construction of an expressway bridging Northern and southern parts of the country. At the initial stage, Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) decided to construct the Northern Expressway from Colombo to Dambulla including an expressway link to Kandy as a part of the proposed Expressway Network of Sri Lanka.

The Central expressway section-1 is a combination of selected segments of previously proposed two Expressways. The segment from Kadawatha to Gampaha remains the same alignment on previously proposed Colombo – Kandy Alternate Highway (CKAH) trace (2001 – 2011) and Beyond Gampaha, the trace is the Northern Expressway trace (2011 – 2014) up to Dambulla and Kandy (Galagedara). After that GOSL decided to change the starting point of the NEP and also to implement it with the assistance of Donor Agencies. Then it was decided to change the project name as Central Expressway in 2015.

With this view, as per directions of GOSL, the Consultant, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lankacarried out a feasibility study in Amalgamation of two feasibility studies (CKAH&NEP) is in progress. Accordingly, this expressway was proposed to commence from Kadawatha on Colombo Outer Circular Highway (E002) and ends at Dambulla on Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Trincomalee Road (A006 Road); with an expressway link to Kandy which commences from Potuhera and ends at Galageda on Katugastota – Kurunegala – Puttalam Road (A010). The expressway passes through the main towns such as Gampaha, Mirigama, Nakalagamuwa, Potuhera, Kurunegala, Ridigama, Melsiripura and Galewela; and the Kandy Link passes through Rambukkana and Naranwala.

Overview of Central Expressway Section IV

Government of Sri Lanka has already identified and decided to implement Central Expressway as one of the most important initiatives to develop the road network areas under a plan for the building of a new country and economic avenues to the people of the country. The Ministry of Higher Education & Highways has taken initial steps for implementation of construction of Kurunegala – Dambulla Central expressway as road network extension in five major Projects have been identified under Awakening Polonnaruwa District Programme. The Chinese companies have expressed their willingness to undertake all five projects under RajarataNovodaya – President’s Programme.

The Central expressway section-IV is from Kurunegala to Dambulla and Beyond Gampaha, the previously proposed trace of the Northern Expressway trace (2011 – 2014) up to Dambulla. Feasibility Study has been carried out by University of Moratuwa and Environmental Impact Assessment has been carried out by University of Sri Jayawardanapura.

Accordingly, this expressway was proposed to commence from Kadawatha on Colombo Outer Circular Highway (E002) and ends at Dambulla on Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Trincomalee Road (A006 Road); with an expressway link to Kandy which commences from Potuhera and ends at Galageda on Katugastota – Kurunegala – Puttalam Road (A010). The Central Expressway–IV passes through the main towns such as Kurunegala, Ridigama,Melsiripura and Galewela and Dambulla.


Why Kurunegala is a success story

Countries are made of land and its people. Mankind’s biggest passion will always be owning land. History boasts of kings and emperors who conquered land to grow their political and economic strength. Whether they used war or other means to gain land, the greatness of a leader – be it Alexander the Great or King Dutugemenu – was mainly determined by the size of land they governed during their reign.

Time and names may keep changing, but countries, even at present, use land to their advantage. The oldest cities to the brand new reclaimed lands keep inventing the most efficient ways to grow. According to the Harvard Business Review, there are four types of cities and each has a way to prepare for the future.

  • Developed Economy, Legacy City (London, New York, Tokyo, Singapore)
  • Emerging Economy, Legacy City (Mumbai, São Paolo, Jakarta)
  • Emerging Economy, New City (Phu My Hung, Vietnam; Suzhou, China; Astana)
  • Developed Economy, New City – new cities in the developed world are in fact large, integrated real-estate developments with an urban theme, usually in close proximity to a true municipality. Examples of these initiatives include New Songdo City in South Korea, Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, and Hafen City Hamburg in Germany.

The definition of “Legacy City” is explained as something that existed before – a road or building, or even a regulatory authority or an entrenched service business. The Juniper Intelligence unit has used this matrix to analyze Sri Lankan cities and concludes that Kurunegala falls into the category of “Emerging Economy, Legacy City”.

Cities such as Kandy, Galle, Colombo, Jaffna, and Anuradhapura are Legacy Cities, because they were selected as kings’ residences or ports many centuries ago. As a result, irrigation, agriculture, religious places, roads, and hospitals were developed and never completely abandoned. Even though local kings moved from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa to many other regions, the old cities remained. And those regions are still, up to date, populated districts.

In Sri Lanka, Colombo city has developed far greater than the rest. According to the Sri Lanka’s Department of Census and Statistics, in 2020, the average household income of a Colombo resident was over USD 8,600 and had a purchasing power per capita (PPP) over USD 25,000 (National PPP in 2020 was USD 7,871, which means Colombo’s PPP over three times higher). It’s plain to see that the living standards, types of businesses available, and even the “thinking” in Colombo are different from other cities in the country.

So, are all cities in Sri Lanka “Emerging”? Are all cities “Legacy Cities”? No. Let’s look at Gampaha – the second most populated district in the country with a population of 2,417,000 (CBSL Annual Report, 2020), but with a higher voter base than Colombo! Is it a Legacy City? No. In comparison, there’s no vast history there. Why it became more populated was because the land was more affordable and was easy to commute from there to Colombo. This is the reason why the Kelaniya Bridge is mostly used in the mornings (school and office traffic), and back in the evening. So, in the Sri Lankan context, Gampaha is a “New City”, and so would be Athurugiriya – closer proximity to the financial capital of the country, affordable real estate, and road connectivity are the reasons for its growth. There’s heavy dependence on Colombo. This is why they market themselves as “few” kilometers to Colombo.

If a country invests heavily in developing a brand new city, would it work like Masdar City? Whilst Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City is a success story, it doesn’t necessarily mean the results will be immediate. For example, Myanmar tried doing this by creating a brand new capital with a thumping investment over USD 30 billion by creating “Naypyidaw City” in 2002. This unheard-of city has 20-lane highways with three hotel districts and even replicas of their famous landmarks. But not many people live there. Malaysia’s Forest City is another example. A city that’s designed for 700,000 people has only a population of 500 now. These examples show that artificial development may not always bring timely projected results, because the biggest asset, “people”, cannot be “homed” artificially.

So what does this mean for Sri Lanka? Can a huge investment create the ultimate “Developed Economy, New City”? If that happens, will that be affordable for locals? Because Malaysia’s Forest City was unaffordable to the locals. Would it be an immediate success or would it take longer than projected like the Forest City?

This is why we say Kurunegala is a success story. Let’s look at what works right for Kurunegala. Kurunegala is not a new city, nor is it in close proximity to the financial capital like Gampaha. Kurunegala cannot market itself by saying only a few kilometers to Colombo. In other words, Kurunegala has not piggybacked on Colombo. Because of this, Kurunegala has developed independently.

(CBSL Annual Report, 2020)KurunegalaColomboGampaha
Population1,729,000 (3rd place)2,448,0002,417,000
Medical officers1,069 (4th place)4,4541,767
Government school teachers20,000 (1st place)18,00016,000
Road Kilometerage2,576 km (1st place)873 km1,677 km
Electricity consumption Gwh1,481 (2nd place)1,522 (Colombo City)n/a

Kurunegala is a Legacy City with a colorful history and has all the required elements needed for a city, such as schools, international schools, hospitals, and people. It is the third most populous district with a population of 1,729,000 people (CBSL Annual Report, 2020) in the country and is the second largest contributor to Sri Lanka’s GDP.

Location is everything. Other than “Galle Road”, Kurunegala (even without the Central Expressway) has access to almost all main roads in the country: Kandy Road, Dambulla Road, Puttalam Road, Negombo Road, and Colombo Road. The Central Expressway is a springboard for sure, but it’s not the only highway that’s connecting the district to the rest of the country. According to the Road Development Authority, by 2030, three more highways will be intersecting through Kurunegala;

  1. Kandy Central Expressway (will be connecting through Pothuhera, Kurunegala to Galagedara, Kandy – 32.5 km)
  2. Northern Expressway (Kurunegala to Jaffna)
  3. Eastern Expressway (Kurunegala to Trincomalee)

Kurunegala’s biggest real estate advantage is its affordability. Like Forest City in Malaysia, if a country has to invest USD 30 billion to develop a brand new city, chances are that you also have to attract foreigners to invest in these real estate developments. If foreigners were able to own land in Sri Lanka (which they cannot directly), locals will not be able to afford land. Right now, land prices are affordable in Kurunegala in comparison to Gampaha and Colombo.

Real Estate Decision Triangle

Juniper Intelligence “Real Estate Decision Triangle”

Our research unit has studied and come up with the compromises one has to make when purchasing real estate.

The triangle consists of three areas: Space, Location, and Budget – in which, one usually compromises/sacrifices one for the other two. Let’s assume that you want to reside in Colombo 7 and have a specific budget, then almost all the time, you must compromise on the space/size of the property. It will be smaller than the property you can get for the same budget in Colombo 5, for example. Sometimes, to stay in a spacious property in the location needed, one will sacrifice the budget and even go to an extent where ownership is compromised – you will select the option of renting/leasing instead. To keep the location and budget intact, you would choose an apartment over a house. But what happens if you wait to decide?

Let’s add the fourth element of time into the triangle. What happens if you wait?

Just like time waits for no one, nor does real estate. The only time the real estate market took a downturn was during the tsunami attack in December 2004. The prices of beachfront real estate in the southern coast and other coastal areas took a short-lived downturn. With amended property development laws, hotels started rebuilding, brand new operators came into the picture, and tourism boomed once again. In November 2011, the Southern Expressway was declared open, and property prices since then have increased exponentially. A new demand was created: Property closer to highway exits (than along the Galle Road).

Kurunegala: Emerging Economy, Legacy City

Real Estate Decision Triangle: What will you compromise?

If you agree with the research we have shared so far, you will know that there is no compromise if you invest in Kurunegala right now.

You will also know that this is real growth with real assets (like that of the southern belt) and is not due to any artificial reasons. It’s not an exercise to build a brand new city, but to boost an economy that already exists, and that would grow exponentially if logistical infrastructure is further developed. Phase 4 of the Central Expressway will be connecting Dambulla to Colombo via Kurunegala. Dambulla, as you may know, is the central agriculture trade hub of the country. Therefore, this highway, along with the other highways (connecting to Jaffna and Trincomalee), will benefit locals and trade. Whilst the southern property belt was developed through tourism, the north-western/northern belt will be developed through trade.

So, would Kurunegala be a tourist city? Not immediately. Since Kurunegala was not marketed as a tourist destination, it never got into the limelight. That is why its humble growth never got any attention. But with these giant infrastructure developments and its people, it will be the next biggest city in the country – a trade hub. We envision it to grow to be a business city like Chicago in the US and Manchester in the UK.

Why Kurunegala, why now is simply because right now, you don’t need to compromise. Whether you are looking for a property to build your first home or next home, or whether you wish to have a commercial property closer to the highway exits, there’s no necessity to compromise the location, space, or the budget.

And what’s in Kurunegala? It’s a Legacy City with existing infrastructure and people who have lived there for generations.

So don’t wait. Because, unless you add “luck” into the equation, the early bird catches the worm.


(JUNIPER GROUP Intelligence holds the copyright to this research finding. Reproduction, distribution, or commercial exploitation of this research finding is prohibited without written permission from JUNIPER GROUP Intelligence)