Here are all the big changes coming to South Africa’s highways

 ·8 Oct 2020
SANRAL e-toll

The South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) has detailed the major road infrastructure projects which it is working on across the country.

In a presentation to parliament this week, the agency said that its primary mandate is to manage and control the country’s national roads network and take charge of its development, maintenance and rehabilitation.

“The country’s 22,000km road network is described in the National Development Plan as the country’s single biggest public asset and is critical to South Africa’s future economic and social trajectory,” the agency said.

As part of this mandate, the agency said that it is currently developing a number of ‘flagship’ socio-economic projects which will see upgrades to some of the country’s highways and major roads.

The N2 Wild Coast and new bridges

The N2 Wild Coast Road, which stretches 410 km from the Gonubie Interchange in East London to the Mtamvuna river near Port Edward, will shorten the current distance by 85 kilometres in comparison to the current route.

This will mean a travel time saving of between one-and-a-half to three-hours for road-users once it is completed saving the economy R1.5 billion annually.

The project will see the construction of two mega-bridge structures on the Msikaba and Mtentu Rivers, seven additional major river bridges and several interchange bridges, as well as new intersection, interchanges, pedestrian walkways and agricultural under and overpasses.

Sanral said that as part of the N2 development, the Msikaba Bridge project is currently underway while the N2 Mtentu Bridge project is being ‘retendered’.

It added that new road section design projects are underway with construction project tenders planned for over the next six months.

The Msikaba bridge is set to become one of the longest span crossings ever constructed on the African Continent, with a tower-to-tower distance of 580 meters.  The new cable-stayed bridge will also become one of the highest bridges in Africa with a deck 194 meters high.

Construction was set to begin in February 2019 but was marred by community protests and delays.


The N3 Van Reenen and other KZN upgrades

The N3 Van Reenen was named as one of the new Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs) gazetted by minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille in July.

It forms part of a number of other upgrades planned for KZN including a  revamp of existing portions of the N2 and N3.

In a briefing last week, Transport minister Fikile Mbalula said that these upgrades will primarily focus on the expansion of existing routes to better cope with the flow of traffic.

The revamp of the N2 will focus on a 55 km stretch from Lovu River on the South Coast to Umdloti on the North Coast, while the N3 will look into an 80 km section from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, he said.

“These upgrades will include the widening of the N2 and N3 carriageways, with four or five lanes in each direction, and the reconfiguration of most major interchanges along these route sections,” said Mbalula.

The transport minister said that construction costs for these upgrades is estimated to be about R10 billion for the N2 and R18.4 billion for the N3. The combined projects are estimated to take up to 10 years to complete.

N1/N2/R300 in Cape Town

Sanral said that it has issued tenders for ‘consulting engineering design services’ to make upgrades to the N1,N2 and R300 in the Western Cape.

However, the agency indicated that funding is a ‘serious constraint’ and did not provide further timeline or construction details.

GFIP Phases 2 and 3

These funding constraints are also being keenly felt in Gauteng, where the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) has been severely impacted, the agency said.

While phase 1 of the GFIP in 2008 saw the rollout of improvements to the province’s highways, the failure of the e-toll project is now being keenly felt by Sanral.

The agency said that any future projects will now be dependent on the outcome with current GFIP e-toll matter.

The uncertainty surrounding e-tolls has resulted in low payment compliance, negatively impacting the agency’s ability to finance its toll portfolio in the short-term, it said. This has resulted in a reduced budget for new projects across its portfolio, and not just in Gauteng.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says that his department is being impeded from rolling out new road infrastructure projects because of a lack of resolution around Gauteng’s e-tolls.

At the start of October, the minister said that president Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet is set to finalise a new funding model for the project after receiving proposals from his department.

Mbalula admitted that he thought the issue would have been resolved by now, but that the process has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Now that we are easing the lockdown to level 1 we are prepared to expedite the roll-out of infrastructure projects and to also resolve the issue of the e-tolls,” he said.

In September, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) said that the government needs to urgently decide on the future of electronic tolls in Gauteng province, as the coronavirus cuts its cashflow.

“We’re having to scurry around to ensure our liquidity,” Sanral chief executive officer Skhumbuzo Macozoma told the Sunday Times.

Macozoma said the decision on whether to keep the system or scrap it rests with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet. Only about 20% of users are paying e-tolls, the Sunday Times reported.

If cancelled, Sanral’s debt related to the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project will jump from around R40 billion to R67 billion. South Africa’s lockdown to curb coronavirus cost Sanral more than R620 million.

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