Deterioration of the R50 demonstrates need for road maintenance overhaul
Stuart Farrow, Shadow Deputy Minister of Transport
22 February 2010
A major cause of the potholes that riddle South African roads is overloading and the transportation of freight on roads, instead of the utilisation of the rail network.
A study by the CSIR Transportek revealed that the annual damage to the network of provincial and national roads caused by overloading was estimated in the mid 1990s to be R450-millon per annum. At today's prices, this figure would be between R700 and R800-million per annum. A salient case in point is the deterioration of the R50 provincial road between Leandra and Standerton in Mpumalanga - an area where a Sasol Petrochemical plant is located as well as numerous coal mines.
Photographs sent to the DA of the R50 road reveal that is in a state of advanced decline. The road is riddled with potholes that have occurred as a result of a substantial period of neglect. This road is used for the transportation of coal between coal mines and a Sasol petrochemical plant. The transportation of these bulk goods has undoubtedly accelerated the rate of deterioration. However, had restrictions been put in place to limit the weight of goods these trucks can transport, been put in place, and maintenance been carried out timeously, this road would almost certainly not have deteriorated to the current dire state it is in.
The solution to overloading and the ancillary damage to the road network is twofold - the creation of a dedicated road maintenance fund and the imposition of strict restrictions on the maximum permitted axle weight and length of heavy vehicles be reduced to meet international norms.
It is a matter of concern that between 1988 and 1999, the percentage of the road network in good or very good condition fell from 75% to 33%. A more recent report emanating from the AA in November 2008 indicates that about 60% of national or provincial roads are in poor or very poor condition compared to 22% in 1998.
Not only has the ANC-led government neglected to ensure that South African roads are adequately maintained, but the costs of effecting such repairs has also been allowed to rise exponentially. The typical cost of maintaining a road, when maintenance is done timeously, is R100 000 per kilometre. If the road is left for three years, the costs rise to R600 000, and if the road is left for a further five years, it will rise to R1.8-million per kilometre.
The cause of this deterioration is neglect and poor planning by the national and provincial governments in allocating funds from budgets for road maintenance. For example, the City of Johannesburg utilised only 2% of its operational expenditure on repairing and maintaining the city's roads over the last 5 years.
The move by the Minister of Finance to increase government's spending on transport projects to nearly R30-billion over the next three years is one to be welcomed. However, it is still a matter of concern that the Minister made no mention of a fund specifically dedicated to the maintenance of South Africa's road infrastructure. The DA has repeatedly called for the establishment of a dedicated road maintenance fund to be sourced from the fuel levy, public-private partnerships and state-guaranteed money-market loans.
Furthermore, in order to encourage a move of the transportation of goods from roads to railways, the DA will be writing to the Minister of Transport proposing that:
- The maximum permitted axle weight and length of vehicles be reduced in conjunction with international norms
- More weighbridges be allocated to local municipalities and provinces
- A punitive tax be imposed on freight en-route where rail services exist
- Heavier punishment for habitual overloading offenders
- The introduction of legislation that certain hazardous and bulk goods should go by rail as opposed to road