Worsening condition of SA roads to cost billions

South Africa’s roads, especially in the countryside, are in an extremely bad condition, with a study by the South African Road Federation indicating that potholes cost motorists R50 billion in vehicle repairs and injuries every year.

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The 2009/10 summer rainfall season saw an unprecedented increase in the number of potholes, and more will develop with the 2011 summer rains, warned the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Dr Phil Paige-Green, author of a set of new CSIR guidelines on roads, said, “The combination of unusually wet conditions over long periods, excessive traffic and poorly-maintained roads is a sure recipe for the development of potholes.” The South African National Roads Agency Limited, owner of national roads, has effective road maintenance contracts in place, and government urgently needs to undertake a concerted road repair programme. But funds are lacking.

“It’s imperative that funding be provided by the relevant authorities for preventative – rather than reactive – routine road maintenance leading up to summer rainfall seasons,” said Dr Paige-Green. “That will go a long way toward saving costs of the repeated patching of potholes, which is often incorrectly done.” The value of South Africa’s road network is R1 047 trillion, with current maintenance expenditure standing at R9,2 billion. The maintenance backlog amounts to R100 billion, with an annual road maintenance need of R32 billion.

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Earlier this year, a petition with more than 9 500 signatures was handed to the Free State department of roads urging the improvement of the province’s roads. At the time, the DA estimated that 90% of gravel and 63% of tarred roads in the Free State were in a poor to very poor condition, a state of affairs which harms the transport of farm goods in this predominantly rural-based economy.

National Taxpayers’ Union (NTU) chairperson Jaap Kelder said they’ve applied to the North West province for permission for farmers to repair provincial roads in the Rustenburg area. “The application is based on farmers’ success in repairing 170km of local roads in Brits and Thabazimbi in April,” he said.While it’s the provincial government’s job to fix the roads, Kelder said they couldn’t wait for something that might never happen. “But we’ve suddenly walked into a brick wall. We’ve had a deathly silence from the province,” he added.

Brits soya and wheat farmer Josef Swanepoel said when the North West road department didn’t have the necessary funds, farmers agreed to fix the roads using their own labour and supervision, while the department supplied the signs, materials and equipment. “PPC, the mine in our area, supplied us with free gravel for the deep holes. The department also promised to give the highest priority to upgrading the R511 between Brits and Thabazimbi in the next financial year,” said Swanepoel.

The task took 10 days to complete. The public reaction, “even from the taxis”, was overwhelming, he said.Pieter van der Westhuizen, chairperson of the NTU’s roads committee, said bridges are also a concern. “I’ve heard reports that bridges are collapsing between Louis Trichardt and Thohoyandou; near East London; and between Villiers and Standerton. I’m sure if a true inspection was conducted, there would be a shocking finding on the state of our bridges.”