New data shows how broken South Africa’s roads are

 ·13 Jun 2021

A new report by business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan shows that more than half (54%) of the country’s unpaved road network is in poor to very poor condition, while about a third (30%) of the paved network is in poor to very poor condition.

South Africa’s road network is the largest and longest interconnected road network in sub-Saharan Africa covering approximately 750,811km of roads.

While the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) is responsible for all major highways, regional departments oversee provincial as well as regional routes while local municipalities oversee smaller urban roads that connect national and regional roads to the major network.

Most of the provincial road funding comes from the national budget in the form of the provincial road maintenance grant (PRMG).

“The provincial road network condition has been on a steady decline since the early 90s due to several reasons, including curtailed funding allocations to roads and the shrinking project output by the public sector,” Frost & Sullivan said.

The group added that the Eastern Cape, Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and the North West in particular are struggling with the maintenance of their respective road networks.

“Not only are both the paved and unpaved roads in danger of further degrading to poor condition, but there also exists a significant backlog of roads that require rehabilitation which is far above the available funding received by the provincial departments.

“With Sanral leading the revival of the industry, it indirectly incentivizes, albeit at a slower rate and smaller size, regional departments to also publish tenders.”

These tenders, however, are focused mainly on the maintenance and upgrading of regional roads rather than construction, said Frost & Sullivan.

“We have quantified our backlogs as far as upgrades (surfacing) are concerned. The cost of our current backlogs, which are roads that are due for upgrades, is worth R23 billion. Indication of the amount of work that is still required,” said the Eastern Cape’s department of transport/

Some roads better than others 

As with the provinces, certain municipalities are better positioned to maintain their road network than others. These include the City of Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Tshwane, Frost & Sullivan said.

However, nearly a quarter of the total metropolitan road network is in danger of degrading from fair to poor condition.

Frost & Sullivan found that the unpaved road network is in generally poor to very poor condition (54%), while the paved road network on the other hand is in better condition, with 21% being in poor to very poor condition.

As with the provincial road network, there exists a considerable backlog in terms of road maintenance, construction, and rehabilitation.

Despite these issues, market participants see the national, provincial as well as municipal backlog as an opportunity rather than a downfall.

“We also have the metros, for example, the eThekwini metro in Durban. They do a good job of maintaining their metro infrastructure and are fairly reliant when it comes to tenders,” said a regional market participant.

If the current trend of tender awarding is to be carried through, demand for contractors at all levels will increase over the next three-five years.

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