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KwaZulu-Natal motorists may have watched the unfolding disaster of Gauteng’s e-tolls from afar, but the problem of crumbling roads – and paying to build and maintain them – will hit much closer to home.
Delivering his provincial transport budget last week, Transport and Community Safety and Liaison MEC Willies Mchunu revealed that more than 70 percent of KZN’s road network was beyond its design life of 25 years. If not attended to, he warned, “we’ll have a crisis on our hands”.
The focus, he said, would move from building new roads to repairing existing – and crumbling – roads. But he warned that, despite having allocated R5.17 billion to transport infrastructure, it was still not enough to reduce the backlog.
The question of developing and maintaining South Africa’s road network, the lifeblood of the country’s economy, has been thrown into sharp relief by the ongoing fight over Gauteng’s e-tolls.
Faced with a debt of R20bn incurred by Sanral for the new roads, the government believes the principle of “user pays” is the only way to recover the expenditure. Cosatu contends that the bill should be spread more widely, and has threatened to take to the streets once more. The options of Treasury (and hence all taxpayers) paying up, or the introduction of a new fuel levy, have also met resistance.
When toll roads were first put in place, there had to be viable alternatives – but this seems to have fallen away and people are forced to use a series of back roads to avoid tolls.
The government is forgetting that part of the money it gathers each year should have covered infrastructure and paid for maintainance. The user already pays. Now the prospect of heavier tolling or taxes will cost consumers more, and drive the price of goods ever higher.
One can only hope government has learned the importance of transparency and consultation, before it gets into another pickle locally.