A misjudgment of just 10cm caused traffic chaos on Cape Town roads on Tuesday night and the serious injury of a city bakkie driver.
The Crescendo Trucking flatbed truck, based in Saldanha Bay, was carrying a 12 ton barge when it tried to pass under the Lower Church Street bridge over the N1 near Woodstock.
But the bridge has a clearly marked height limit of 4.6 metres, while the total height of the truck and its load was 4.7 metres.
The barge was swept off the back of the truck and on to the bakkie driving behind.
The driver had to be freed by the jaws of life, and was taken to Groote Schuur hospital where spokesman Alaric Jacobs said he was in intensive care with head injuries.
The accident happened on the outbound lane before the N1 split to Marine Drive. The N1 was closed for three hours, causing chaos throughout the evening peak. Traffic was diverted through the harbour and via the N2, and drivers trying to avoid delays then gridlocked all city exits, including the route over Kloof Nek to the Atlantic seaboard.
Preliminary inquiries into the accident ordered by Western Cape transport MEC Robin Carlisle indicated:
The Crescendo Trucking driver, who is apparently not familiar with Cape Town roads, was on the wrong route and had possibly left the harbour by the wrong gate.
He had the necessary permit to drive the load, and it was not essential for him to travel with an escort.
He was transporting the load a day earlier than the date stipulated on the permit.
Cape Town Traffic Services has issued the company with fines for being on the wrong road and for the height of the load.
Provincial police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel André Traut confirmed that a case of reckless and negligent driving had been opened.
DRIVER TOOK THE WRONG ROUTE
Spokesman for Carlisle Siphisihle Dube said the department had issued an abnormal load permit on Friday 11 October.
Crescendo Trucking was set to transport the load from Cape Town harbour to Westacor, in Saldanha Bay, via the R27.
They were to take Container Road through the docks and leave the harbour by the abnormal load gate. They were then to turn left into Marine Drive, which becomes the R27, and head towards the Vredenburg weighbridge where they were to turn left to Saldanha Bay. The permit was valid from 16 - 22 October.
But it appears the driver had left the harbour by an earlier gate, which got him on to the N1 before the point at which Marine Drive splits off from the N1 - and before the Lower Church Street bridge.
QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT CITY’S PREPAREDNESS
The huge disruption caused by the accident on the N1 has left many wondering if the City of Cape Town is prepared for emergencies and disasters.
Mayoral committee member for transport Brett Herron said the city had a disaster risk management plan to deal with incidents such as Tuesday’s accident, and an updated version had been approved by the mayoral committee this week. It included a disaster risk assessment table that identifies possible hazards and the areas that would be worst hit.
These hazards range from flash floods and tsunamis to earthquakes, pest infestations and an outbreak of an infectious disease. It also looks at non-natural disasters such as aircraft, rail and shipping incidents.
There is also a plan for a nuclear disaster at Koeberg, although this is listed as “unlikely”.
Each directorate is responsible for its relevant response to an incident.
For a major traffic accident, the chief of traffic services is responsible for co-ordinating a response with the police and other emergency services. This would involve helping police to control and disperse crowds on the roadways near the emergency area.
The plan acknowledges that serious road accidents are “very likely” (expected to happen at least once a month). It also notes that the city’s entire road network - “especially highways and intersections” - is vulnerable.
Herron said the accident on the N1 highlighted an urgent need for a freight management strategy. Many collisions in the city involved freight vehicles.
“We can’t ban freight vehicles from the roads because then we may as well close the city down from an economic perspective. But we need a clear strategy in partnership with Transnet to ensure frequent and reliable freight rail services.”
A plan is being formulated and will probably be in place by next July.
“We need to look at how freight moves, and when it moves, to reduce impact on our road structure and other users. Do we restrict certain trucks to certain roads - and how do we do that?” said Herron.
Roads such as the R27 used by heavy-duty vehicles were showing signs of wear.
Herron said that while Tuesday’s snarl-up had affected road-users, commuters using trains and MyCiTi buses were largely unaffected.
Transport consultant Rory Williams underscored the need for a rapid response to such an emergency, as well as communication between all the relevant authorities. Communication should also extend to commuters via radio and other means so they could make alternative plans before getting stuck in traffic.
Other cities have a middle lane where traffic can be reversed in the event of an emergency.
Commuters vented their frustration on social media and “#gridlock” trended on Twitter.
“Why Cape Town needs more roads: #Gridlock in the city after an accident shut down ONE major route,” read one Tweet, while another annoyed commuter Tweeted: “Can only hope there are consequences for the injury and gridlock caused by negligence in Cape Town today”. - Cape Argus