80% of South Africa’s roads have reached the end of their design life: minister

 ·24 Feb 2022

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says South Africa is facing an ‘intractable challenge’ as its roads network faces a significant maintenance backlog.

Speaking at a road construction indaba on Thursday (24 February), Mbalula said that while the national government was not directly responsible for the backlog at a provincial level, it would still have a direct impact on all motorists.

“Amongst the many challenges we seek to tackle, we remain burdened with the intractable challenge of the road maintenance backlog.

“The total paved and gravelled network at the provincial level is 184,816 kilometres. 40% of this (provincial) network has reached the end of its design life, as approximately 80% of the (national) road network is now older than the 20-year design life.”

While the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) is responsible for the primary network, provinces and municipalities are responsible for the secondary and tertiary networks, he said.

Schedule 5 of the Constitution provides that provincial roads and traffic are an exclusive provincial competence, while municipal roads, traffic and parking are exclusive municipal functions.

Despite this, Mblaula acknowledged that the national sphere of government has a responsibility to ensure that provincial and municipal roads are managed correctly due to their important role in the economy.

“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 1990s due to several reasons that include a curtailed funding allocation and the shrinking project output by the road sector.”

Mbalula’s comments come after he warned of a growing roads crisis in South Africa earlier this month.

Answering questions in a parliamentary committee meeting on 15 February, the minister said that important money required for road maintenance was being used to service debt that had been built up by the failed e-toll project.

“I am sitting here with roads that are not going to be maintained for the next 10 years. The second phase of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project has come to an abrupt standstill and there is going to be (serious) congestion in the next five to ten years, starting in Gauteng.

“It is going to be the biggest disaster you have ever seen, with roads not being fixed and maintained, because we do not have the money to do it.”

Mbalula was heavily critical of former finance minister Tito Mboweni who he said had failed to offer a solution to the controversial e-toll scheme, which contributed to the growing debt problems. “It will have dire consequences for this country – the same as we have dire problems of electricity.”

Similar to Eskom’s issues, these are problems that were identified more than 10 years ago by the government and have not been sufficiently addressed, Mbalula said.

The minister said that several provincial authorities had also misused maintenance funds, with it becoming a common occurrence to pay service providers millions of rands for roads that do not exist.

Read: Johannesburg to investigate R94 million road that was half finished

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