Updated : 1 July 2009
Road network to take Gauteng into a new era
The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), an initiative of the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) will inject approximately R29 billion into the South African economy and approximately R13 billion into the provisional gross geographic product, creating nearly 30 000 direct jobs over its lifecycle.
Once completed within the next year or so, the initiative that crosses the Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane metropolitan boundaries will widen freeways to at least four lanes in both directions and in some sections up to six lanes. The first phase of the project will result in the upgrading of 185 kms of the existing freeway network and over the lifespan of the project, a further 376 kms of upgraded and newly constructed freeways is planned to be implemented. The upgraded and expanded freeway network will significantly reduce traffic congestion and unblock access to economic opportunities and social development projects. The network will provide an interconnected freeway system of inner and outer ring roads, incorporating the historically-neglected western and southern Gauteng settlements.
However, said SANRAL CEO, Mr Nazir Alli, “The most significant contribution the investment will make to ordinary citizens is the improvement of their quality of life and family time that an upgraded road infrastructure will deliver.”
Established in 1998 and accountable as a state-owned entity to parliament via the Minister of Transport, SANRAL has undertaken a host of projects since inception of which the GFIP is the current flagship. The organisation is responsible for South Africa’s 16 150km network of non-toll roads and toll roads. The current toll road network is funded via toll fees, while the cost of the non-toll network is borne by National Treasury grants.
The GFIP upgrade programme
Apart from widening of the freeways, the GFIP project will also ensure that bottlenecks at interchanges are resolved. For the first phase of the GFIP, 34 interchanges are significantly upgraded, including infamous interchanges such as the Allandale, Rivonia, William Nicol, Gilloolys and Elands interchanges. Furthermore, median lighting and an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) consisting of cameras, electronic notice boards and other traffic management features along the national routes will be provided. The ITS has been successfully piloted on the Ben Schoeman highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria since 2006.
The GFIP was planned before South Africa’s 2010 World Cup Soccer bid was accepted, and will therefore not be completed before the end of 2010. In order to substantially improve accessibility to various venues during next year’s showcase, certain construction milestones were set, that will ensure that most of the construction works for road widening are completed in time for the 2010 event. All outstanding construction works will be suspended for the duration of the 2010 World Cup, and will not result in any impact on traffic movement between World Cup venues.
Alli said new freeway sections include the PWV9 south between the N14 and N1 and potentially a southern extension of the Mabopane freeway to the R55; the PWV5 between the R21 and PWV9; PWV14 between R21 and M2 and the N17 to the West Rand. “GFIP will allow unimpeded growth in Gauteng, while paving the way for major investment into small medium and micro-enterprise as well as black economic empowerment businesses via construction,” he said.
He said as the economic heartland is generating 38% of South Africa’s economic activity, Gauteng has developed beyond its infrastructural capabilities with roads in general unable to keep up with increasing traffic demands. This has affected road users and the economy by the daunting peak-hour traffic periods each morning and evening; limited family and leisure time and decreased productivity as employees lose productive hours due to the negotiating of traffic.
Potential developments have also been rendered unviable due to insufficient road capacity or the additional financial burden placed on developers to provide road infrastructure as a condition of approval. Consequently businesses were found to be relocating or scaling down local operations as congestion escalated. There is also a misconception that public transport is non-road based, meaning congestion affects the quality of life for millions of people who rely on public transport to commute long distances within Gauteng.
The success of effective and efficient commuter transport in Gauteng, lies in the provision of different transport options and modes to commuters. These options include the GFIP with high occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV), the Gautrain, Metrorail and Bus Rapid Transport Systems (BRT) The GFIP strives to create links with the other transport modes to provide citizens with the choice for either using public transportation or car-pooling that alleviate congestion caused by single-passenger vehicles.
“Coupled with reducing the direct cost of travel and minimising environmentally-unfriendly driving practices caused by stop-start traffic flow, GFIP will alleviate the current Gauteng problems and will become the catalyst for substantial economic growth and job creation.” Alli said,
Ensuring a well-maintained and upgraded road network
On completion of the first phase of the project by end 2010, GFIP will operate on an open-road tolling system with revenue collected and utilised in order to improve the road infrastructure, service debt already incurred on for the upgraded freeway network in Gauteng and ensure a well-maintained and upgraded road network into the future. The ‘user-pay’ principle indicates that future congestion in Gauteng will be minimised as SANRAL fosters a sufficient revenue stream to upgrade the infrastructure in line with road demand.
Open-road tolling means that transactions will be conducted electronically on a strictly user-pay system. Physical tolling booths will be eliminated – thus eradicating delays and vehicle emission associated with stop-start driving. Motorists will be required to register as a user to obtain the transponders that are fitted in vehicles. The transponders detect movement whenever the driver passes under gantries situated approximately every 10km along the freeway network.
Vehicles belonging to non-Gauteng residents, rental vehicles and those without transponders will be photographed and presented with an account. Non-payment will hence be a traffic offence in terms of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences legislation.
“Tolling remains an equitable method for motorists to pay for what they use and this means that SANRAL will be able to provide road infrastructure more promptly than having to rely on tax-based revenue. Capital raised via tolls is directly returned into the specific road network.” Alli said.
He debunked several myths concerning tolls, including the fact that the system is a new one implemented only locally. “Tolling has existed since the ancient turnpikes where gatekeepers turned the pike after travellers had paid their fees. This was then applied to the first motor vehicles, which subsequently forced changes to the existing infrastructure.”
“The national tax base renders government services to every citizen in South Africa and it is important to understand that tolls are not taxes. They are merely utilised for a specific portion of the road used - in the same way that one would pay for parking at a shopping mall,” he added.
Effectively, this would mean that people electing to use the toll network are effectively contributing towards the upgrading, maintenance and effective operation of world-class roads.
Alli said that toll roads would traditionally relieve congestion on parallel routes, however the new electronic system will now allow motorists unhindered passage and free-flowing traffic. Environmentally speaking, tolls will result in lower motor vehicle emissions, which will ultimately contribute to the reduction of global warming by alleviating congestion.
“In short, these roads ensure a high-quality network which adds to improved road safety by reducing travelling distances and result in substantial savings to motor vehicle running costs. They represent the fairest, most precise way in paying for transportation facilities by linking user benefits to user fees and charging people for the exact amount of the facility they have used,” he said.
Inevitably road networks deteriorate over time due to weather conditions, ultraviolet radiation and overloading. This means that when tolls are introduced on existing roads, the revenue does not subsidise the current asset but instead, that of upgrades and future improvements. Alli stressed that transportation funding is a critical issue for social development and economic growth in South Africa and that tolls invariably complement the conventional funding sources in boosting the quality and extent of the country’s national road infrastructure.
“SANRAL recognises the role that a safely engineered, comfortable and reliable national road network plays in advancing South Africa’s global competitiveness, the economy, tourism and social upliftment as well as the contribution a superior road network makes in pushing back the frontiers of poverty,” Alli concluded.