Stalled upgrade gives locals a chance

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The impending bankruptcy of the company behind the prolonged upgrade of Kalk Bay’s Main Road marks the latest hurdle in an almost seven-year saga for businesses and residents in the area.

But for most, the announcement that Vusela Construction was being liquidated has come as a mixed blessing, as the final phase of the upgrade was put on hold last month.

“Now at least the road is open and we can start making back some money,” said Tim Hesser, who owns the BP garage in Fish Hoek.

During the second stage of the upgrade, which began at the beginning of last year and was only completed by July, the bulk of Kalk Bay’s two-lane Main Road was turned into a single-lane “stop/go” system.

Hesser said the closure had turned Fish Hoek into a ghost town as commuters swopped the coastal road for Ou Kaapseweg to avoid the kilometres of standstill traffic that built up before the roadworks.

“Nobody was stopping at our garage. Sometimes we wouldn’t even get more than a few cars.”

Every month, the previously profitable petrol station was losing more than R50 000. In that six-month period Hesser had to retrench three staff members to stay afloat.

“If we have another stop/go there will be some serious casualties.”

Initially proposed as a three-year job in 2007, the multimillion-rand roadworks were soon derailed after engineers discovered a network of unmapped and ancient pipes and cables underneath the tarmac.

This coupled with the demands of keeping the road open to traffic – about 19 000 cars use the road every day – slowed progress to a snail’s pace.

“It’s a very difficult road to work on,” said Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for roads, stormwater and transport, who added that each phase depended on whether the city had funding, and therefore the process had been spread across the past six years.

Fish Hoek Ratepayers’ Association chairwoman Janet Holwill sympathised with the city and the construction company. “They are working in very confined areas and there are a lot of demands to keep the road open. I think they did a very good job.”

But she was still aware of the challenge faced by shops in the area. She said many had recorded gross profit losses of up to 30 percent.

“The delay is definitely a mixed blessing. We had the road open during the holiday seasons and it was a chance for businesses to make back some of the money they lost last year.”

But Kalk Bay Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association chairman Tony Trimmel said the delay was frustrating. “We need to bite the bullet and deal with the roadworks. At the end of the day we will be getting something we really need.

“I hope the company they bring in now knows what they are doing and have learnt from the previous two phases.”

Phase three is still on the cards, but whether Vusela Construction – now under the control of a business rescue practitioner to assess its ability to see out its contract with the city – will finish the job is uncertain.

Herron said the city would wait to see the result of the assessment.

“If they are going under we will advertise the tender and bring in someone new.”

Holwill said the upgrade needed an efficient and experienced company to avoid more “hiccups” that had characterised the upgrade since it began. - Cape Argus


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