It is important to explore all alternatives before settling on a 1990s proposal that would harm region’s economy, writes Hector Eliott.
Cape Town - The evictions by the sheriff of the court of residents of informal settlements in Lwandle represent the most recent volley in the conflict over Sanral’s Winelands Toll Roads Project.
The rerouting of the N2, which is at the core of Sanral’s intentions, in keeping its land clear of informal settlements, is a part of the Winelands tolling project that would mirror the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, better known as e-tolls (although open tolling is not anticipated).
The project would see the N2 being tolled between Khayelitsha and Bot Rivier, and the N1 between the Old Oak interchange and Worcester.
It has been reported that the tolling on the R300 may be scrapped. The project could represent a significant threat to the economy and well-being of the Western Cape, especially as it would likely drive up the logistic costs of agricultural production at a time when many farmers are being squeezed to the limit.
Farmers and their representatives have particularly emphasised the risk to the milk industry, which moves product on the roads every day and is struggling with low profit margins while remaining a core element of food security.
Sanral contends that the improved roads infrastructure would reduce logistics costs through shorter journey times, and presumably through better safety measures, which would reduce delays and losses arising from traffic accidents and breakdowns.
The City of Cape Town has been holding Sanral in check through court action over the lack of an economic impact assessment. The plan includes massively expensive infrastructure projects, like the opening of the northern bore of the Huguenot Tunnel, tunnelling through Sir Lowry’s Pass, and the rerouting of the N2.
This seems to be compounding the error of the Gauteng toll roads, in that it assumes that the 20th century’s huge swing to private vehicles must and will continue, and that somehow we can simply keep building more and bigger roads.
Without undertaking a thorough economic impact assessment of the options available, it is hard to say, but perhaps transport planning would be better served by looking at how to spend a budget of R20 billion or R30bn in boosting public transport, or supporting spatial planning that puts people, transport, jobs, shops, schools, clinics and recreation closer together. Safe and effective non-motorised transport infrastructure could also alleviate the burden on the roads.
Effective road user education and improved traffic law enforcement that would get South Africans to stop drinking and driving, driving too fast for weather conditions, driving when distracted or fatigued, driving poorly maintained, overloaded or unroadworthy vehicles, walking drunk on highways and so on, would also help enormously in preventing the huge losses to the economy that ensue from the chaos that occurs when there is a crash on a major artery during rush hour. A pedestrian knockdown can cost tens of millions of rand in lost person hours and wasted fuel.
This, in particular, can be done at a fraction of the cost of boring a tunnel through the Hottentots Holland mountains.
We should also be aligning transport planning with the requirements of sustainability and the pressures that rapid climate change is imposing on us, rather than simply facilitating more of the same.
Sanral is one of the best government agencies in the country, with a very real commitment to making the roads better and safer. It does seem, however, that it has been tasked with transport and spatial planning policy development, and that the policy of building bigger roads to treat congestion, often likened to treating obesity with a bigger belt, remains central.
Since the Winelands Toll Roads Project was developed, the National Development Plan (NDP) has been produced, providing a blueprint for a transport and planning environment. It calls for far more emphasis on public transport and spatial planning that substantially reduces transport requirements, and recognises the urgent need to respond to climate change.
The NDP certainly seems to call for a revised look at old approaches in this regard, so while Sanral may even be correct that there is no alternative to the Winelands project, it bears relooking at a plan that was devised in the late 1990s.
Perhaps the shock experienced at the sight of the evictions on Monday will also prompt the re-opening of the debate on what kind of province and city we want with regard to the transport network. How the government, business and civil society ultimately respond to the urbanisation and housing issues behind this week’s dramatic scenes is intricately linked with where we direct our resources for transport.
* Hector Eliott is a former head of the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, and is an adviser to Premier Helen Zille. He writes in his private capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.