Council's toll project statements are mischievous

28 March 2013

In 1918, US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson is purported to have said: “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” The same can be said about the perceived war between SANRAL and the City of Cape Town about the N1/N2 Winelands Toll Highway Project. Late last week, the City informed the media that it intended approaching the courts to interdict the start of the project. It also said SANRAL intended to commence with the project on 20 April 2013.

Here are the facts. SANRAL, through its lawyers, did send a letter to the City on 6 March 2013 notifying it of its intention to take steps to advance or implement the N1/N2 Toll Highway Project.

SANRAL indicated that it intends, without further delay, negotiating with the preferred bidder and if necessary, the reserve bidder, for purposes of concluding a concession contract, securing funding for works under the project and carrying out the works necessary to address the safety concerns along the N1/N2.

SANRAL has never said it intends to start with the project or to conclude the concession contract on the 20th April 2013. The negotiation of such contracts is a time consuming and lengthy process and so is the process of securing funding necessary for the works. Only after the appointment of a concessionaire, and once funding has been secured, can the necessary works under the project be carried out.

It therefore follows that SANRAL is not in a position to conclude a concession contract nor to start with the works on 20 April 2013. Statements in this regard are mischievous and intended to influence public opinion in a particular direction.

It is also untrue that SANRAL is not willing to engage the City or Province on the project. As recently as last week, there were exchanges between SANRAL and the City about a possible meeting. SANRAL has consistently interacted with the Western Cape Provincial Minister of Transport, including making technical presentations about the project.

But outside the legal skirmishes the City is threatening, the question has to be asked as to why this project is necessary and why SANRAL notified the City about its intention to advance implementation of the project. The advancement of implementation is necessary to prevent the irreversible deterioration of portions of the roads concerned and to safeguard and protect the public safety of road users.

The development and maintenance of the South African national roads network is a component of SANRAL’s statutory mandate. Section 25(1) of the South African National Roads Agency Limited and National Roads Act, number 7 of 1998 (the SANRAL Act”), requires SANRAL to perform “… all strategic planning with regard to the South African national roads system, as well as the planning, design, construction, operation, management, control, maintenance and rehabilitation of national roads for the Republic, and is responsible for the financing of all those functions in accordance with its business and financial plan, so as to ensure that government’s goals and policy objectives concerning national roads are achieved…”.

Cooperative governance notwithstanding, the City should not be an impediment towards SANRAL fulfilling its mandate. Specific portions of the N1/N2 were constructed between 20 and 30 years ago and are moving towards the end of their design life. Since November 2011 there has been a significant deterioration of certain portions of the Project’s road infrastructure. The predominant distress visible in the road surface is “crocodile cracking”. In many instances the cracking is associated with deformation and pumping (fine material being washed out from the layer below).

Once a road has reached the stage where widespread crocodile cracking has occurred, deterioration will accelerate as the surface can no longer prevent the ingress of water reducing the strength of unbound material underlying the surface. It is therefore common for roads in this condition to form potholes during rainy periods.

Although maintenance contractors appointed by SANRAL have routinely over the last number of years attended to the distress by means of patching in order to minimise the occurrence of potholes, this is now insufficient to properly maintain the road.

To ensure effective maintenance and proper rehabilitation of the road, the works contemplated by the project have to be carried out. Further delays will cause substantial additional deterioration to the road infrastructure and significantly increase the costs which will ultimately have to be incurred to implement the project.

A serious concern related to what is stated above regarding the deterioration of the road is that its current state compromises the safety of road users. Some specific safety concerns identified during regular surveys conducted in contemplation of the project related to, among others, unacceptable high frequency of road accidents, primarily at the unsignalled intersections along the route, due to the ever-increasing N2 traffic flows between Sir Lowry’s Pass and Houwhoek Pass.

A further major concern is the current state of the Huguenot Tunnel South Bore. A second bore needs to be constructed as the existing bore has exceeded its service level and its associated equipment has reached the end of its design life. This poses a safety hazard to the motorists using the tunnel. In addition to the construction of a second bore, fire detection, automatic incident detection, ventilation and communication systems have to be installed in order to ensure a fast and effective response to fires and other incidents.

The recommencement of the project is necessary to ensure that these safety concerns are addressed as soon as possible. Also, funding is to be secured by the concessionaire and for this to happen, SANRAL must negotiate with the preferred bidder, or reserve bidder, in order to determine and finalise the terms of appointment.

The advancement or implementation of the project is necessary to ensure the safety of motorists, to prevent the further deterioration of the road and to ensure funding for the project is secured. This is all SANRAL communicated to the City.

Vusi Mona is is head of communications at SANRAL.