Road widening project on the East-West highway is making travel increasingly difficult. Last week, a dozen public transport operators submitted a petition to the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) that said they would be compelled to suspend the services until the highway becomes pliable. In fact one of them – Meto Transport – stopped operating on this lateral route since July 11. It is not very difficult to picture how bad and unmotorable the highway has become while we go on scraping the hills.

RSTA yesterday discussed the issue with the Department of Roads. Wherever the talks ended or whatever they centred on, it is important that we recognise the challenges that the transport operators are facing on this national highway. They wouldn’t call the shots just because they feel like it. Their grievances must be viewed as genuine and solutions sought as early as possible. If the services stop operating on this route, untold lives will be affected. Often at such times devouring self-seekers plunder innocent travellers for short-term gains. On this road, even as we speak, it is happening.

The widening work on this highway that should have already been completed has taken some more time. We are told the deadline now has been pushed to early 2018. When we last checked, the progress report told us that almost 75 percent of the widening project was completed by March 2016. Then until now, the progress should have been impeccable. What we have, though, is a sorry state of affairs. Of course we ought to make some allowance for the destructive power of monsoon. Even so, the condition of the highway should not be so bad that the transport operators are now giving us an ultimatum.

As the Prime Minister remarked after his airborne visit to the highway last year, the widening of the highway is a valuable investment because it has the potential to become the country’s lifeline. It, the highway, will be the “pride of our people,” he said. Well, it doesn’t look like anything we can be proud of. Not yet, at least. Efforts must be made to make the highway pliable so that the public transport operators do not suspend their service. Otherwise, the “lifeline” of half the nation’s people will be severed. And that’s not a good thing to happen.

This is an issue that needs to be settled as  straightaway as possible. We cannot allow foot-dragging – at all.