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The Mercury, 23 November 2020

Durban - THE first four contracts that form part of the R30 billion upgrade of the N2 and N3 highways surrounding Durban are about to be awarded by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral), with a fifth tender – the R2bn upgrade of the busy EB Cloete or Spaghetti junction interchange – due to close just before Christmas.

Although Sanral is not yet ready to provide the specifics of the first four tenders, Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula told Parliament last month that the massive upgrades would go ahead.

He said the N2 upgrade would focus on 55km from Lovu River to the south to Umdloti on the North Coast. The N3 upgrade would cover 80km between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

The N2 upgrade is expected to cost R10bn, while the N3 upgrade is estimated to cost R18.4bn. The upgrades will take about eight to 10 years to complete.

A portion of each project has been reserved for local SMMEs in line with Sanral’s enterprise development programme. The overall project is expected to create 15 000 to 20 000 jobs.

These road upgrades have been 10 years in the planning, according to Sanral, which embarked on a roadshow to introduce them to local businesses in June last year and to pre-empt any confrontations with business forums that have held up other major road construction projects in the province.

The most iconic feature of the proposed road infrastructure upgrades is the redesigned EB Cloete Interchange, which will include a massive arch reminiscent of the one at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

The EB Cloete upgrade is expected to ease congestion and convert the junction into a free-flow interchange.

In June, Ravi Ronny, Sanral’s design, planning and construction manager for the Eastern Region, said that this would be a lengthy project.

He said that Sanral would negotiate with provincial authorities to identify and upgrade alternative routes in an attempt to ease the impact of the congestion that would result.

Another project will be the Westville Viaduct/Paradise Valley upgrade that will feature the first network arch bridge to be constructed in South Africa.

The proposed bridge will span the entire N3 without any support piers, creating space for additional lanes.

The Paradise Valley/Mariannhill toll plaza upgrade will see the addition of lanes and upgrading of interchanges, including Richmond Road interchange.

At Key Ridge, a high-accident zone, about 11km of the N3 will be widened into a 10-lane dual carriageway. For the N2, Sanral intends constructing a multi-level interchange to replace the Higginson Highway interchange.

This includes a flyover with directional ramps as well as loops to allow high mobility in what is seen to be the major connection with the Durban port. According to Sanral, the project aims to strengthen the logistics and transport corridor between the main industrial hubs, and improve access to the port. Most importantly, it is intended to ease congestion and improve safety.

Ronny said that if the upgrades did not go ahead, time delays and accidents would cost businesses about R1bn per annum. Already, an hour-long road closure costs the economy about R300 million.

The N3 carries more than 75 million tons of freight each year with about 45 000 vehicles, including 9 000 heavy vehicles, using the road per day.

The upgraded corridor was designed to handle the additional 600 000 containers expected to come through Durban’s port during the next five to 10 years.

This will require an additional 300 000 road trips. The same applies to the N2 corridor that links the port with the Dube Trade Port Special Economic Zone and, ultimately, the proposed R1 trillion Durban Aerotropolis.

Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Palesa Phili welcomed the upcoming infrastructure upgrades. “We believe they will shorten turnaround times for freight-carrying vehicles, reduce accidents and increase profitability.”

She said the Durban and KZN economy relied on the logistics/transport sector, and these upgrades would contribute to economic growth provided they were executed effectively.

Master Mariner and head of Transport at Norton Rose Fulbright, Malcolm Hartwell, described the expected roadworks as “a necessary evil”. “Given the terrible impact of the pandemic on the economy, any investment in infrastructure has to be welcomed. Global studies have shown that improved transport infrastructure is the single best investment in terms of returns for private companies, the state and the economy as a whole.

“It may be argued that this upgrade should have taken place some years ago but, given the massive demands on the public purse, the notion that we should have built a high-speed rail link or a six-lane highway to attract customers is a luxury our country could ill afford,” he said.

Gavin Kelly, chief executive of the Road Freight Association, described the upgrades as “short-term pain for longterm gain”. He said that “having the best road that money could buy” would improve safety and reduce wear and tear on trucks’ tyres, suspension and brakes.

He said the EB Cloete Interchange had done “25 years of sterling work” and that an upgrade would provide another 10 to 15 years of good road infrastructure.

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