Deterioration of SA's secondary road network a cause for concern

Efficient maintenance of road infrastructure critical, SAICE says

20 June 2021 - 17:54 By ernest mabuza
An e-toll gantry on the N17 near Germiston. A report by Frost & Sullivan states that 30% of SA's paved roads are in poor to very poor condition.
An e-toll gantry on the N17 near Germiston. A report by Frost & Sullivan states that 30% of SA's paved roads are in poor to very poor condition.

Maintenance and development of infrastructure, including that of SA’s road network, must continue to remain a strategic objective of the public and private sectors, states Vishaal Lutchman, CEO of the SA Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE).

Lutchman was responding to a report released by consulting firm Frost & Sullivan earlier this month, which stated that 30% of SA's paved roads are in a poor to very poor condition.

The report also stated that more than half (54%) of the country’s unpaved road network was in a poor to very poor condition.

Lutchman said SAICE has made representations on SA’s broad range of public infrastructure through its Infrastructure Report Card (IRC) over the years. Research from the IRC has highlighted the condition of SA’s road network remaining very variable in nature, both between spheres of government and geographical areas.

“Much more has to be done to give effect to our economic reconstruction and recovery plan by ongoing focus on our transport system, including our road network,” Lutchman said.

Lutchman said the SA road network was managed at three levels:

  • Primary intercity, with economic roads mainly managed by Sanral on behalf of the Department of Transport;
  • The secondary and tertiary intercity network, largely managed by the nine provincial departments; and
  • Urban and rural municipal roads managed by local authorities.

“While SAICE believes that Sanral continues to maintain a strong level of professional engineering expertise, we do recognise that the deterioration of some of the country’s road networks is multifaceted and a complex issue,” Lutchman said.

SAICE’s Sam Amod said research from the IRC has pointed out that the condition of the primary (national) intercity road network is, and has for several decades been, very good.

However, he said the subsector, “national roads”, does not achieve an “A” grading because of the additional provincial roads incorporated into its network during the past few years.

Furthermore, SA's secondary and tertiary intercity road networks continued to experience ongoing deterioration, so much so that both the efficiency and cost of moving freight on the network faced severe challenges.

“It would be ideal if the majority of intercity freight is handled by the rail network,” Amod said.

In addition, road safety was compromised by the condition of the secondary road network.

He said much of this network, which included gravel roads, was in a very unhealthy condition, and this was also dependent on the province concerned.

“As much as the road network is owned and operated by the three tiers of government, users experience the road network as a single system,” Lutchman said.

Tauqeer Ahmed, also from SAICE, said consistently over the years, several challenges have emerged impacting the maintenance of SA's road networks.

Ahmed said these included capacity constraints, particularly at a municipal level; lack of maintenance funding and deployment of such; high traffic volumes; overloading and poor stormwater management; a skills deficit; labour issues; and procurement processes.

Lutchman said while the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted road maintenance schedules — given that the construction industry came to a halt for up to six months during lockdown — the backlog of road maintenance extended beyond this period, and will take a while to address.

Ahmed said authorities should conduct routine and regular asset condition assessments.

Lutchman said it was imperative to continue to advocate for awareness and care for the need for maintenance of infrastructure as a high priority.

“Efficient maintenance of infrastructure is critical to enable our much-needed socio-economic development.

“If infrastructure is mismanaged, the functional lifespan will decline,” Lutchman said.