By Bronwyn Gerretsen
Accusations of deception are being levelled at the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) after it was confirmed yesterday that construction of the proposed tollbooth outside Durban's new airport was already proceeding.
With public attention focused on the N2 Wild Coast tollroad, Sanral has quietly started construction of the tollbooth on the La Mercy interchange leading from the new King Shaka International Airport to the N2 south.
Sanral said yesterday there had been no need for public participation or comment on the matter because the booth was being erected off an existing tollroad.
The IFP, however, has slammed the construction, saying that no one in the provincial government had bothered to formally announce it, let alone consider the views of the public about its future operation.
MPL Lionel Mtshali said the new toll plaza had come about "entirely by stealth".
The eThekwini municipal manager, Michael Sutcliffe, also condemned the toll booth, saying the city had consistently opposed its construction in the metro region.
"We have, in the past, made our voice known on the issue, not only because roads are a national responsibility, but also because two of the major ports in South Africa do not have tollroads.
"(Furthermore) there will be problems from a traffic point of view, so I'm sure the council remains opposed to them," said Sutcliffe.
Users of Durban's new airport will have to fork out R4 to R16 in toll fees on leaving the airport and heading back to Durban.
When the booth was first proposed, it caused a furore, with motorists, Cosatu and the eThekwini municipality speaking out against it.
The issue disappeared from public discourse in recent months, but was raised again yesterday by the IFP at the economic development and tourism budget briefing in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature. When pressed by the party, Dube Trade Port officials admitted that they were aware of the toll gate.
Sanral regional manager Gunyaziwe Makaula confirmed yesterday that the ramp toll had been approved by the cabinet at the end of last year and that the tariffs had been gazetted.
The fees would be R4 for light motor vehicles, R8 for two-axle heavy vehicles, R12 for three- and four-axle vehicles, and R16 for heavy vehicles of five axles or more. Discounts of 20 percent to 40 percent would be given to frequent users of the road, Makaula said.
The toll would come into operation with the new airport on May 1.
Although Makaula said there had been public participation on the matter, a national spokeswoman for the company, Priya Pillay, said consultation was not needed because the toll gate was being erected on a road adjoining an existing tollroad.
Automobile Association spokesman Gary Ronald said that Sanral was unfortunately within its rights to erect a tollbooth on the road.
"But we are against the tolling of any road in peri-urban areas that would make transport more expensive," said Ronald.
Mtshali said there had been "vigorous debate" on the subject of additional tolls in KZN, but that discussions had always focused on the proposed plaza on the N2 at Isipingo.
"We are concerned about the added cost of passenger travel from the new airport.
" The proximity of the Tongaat plaza to the site of the new plaza is also worrying," he said.
Road Freight Association spokesman Gavin Kelly said that the toll fees would impact on association members' cash flow and operating costs, which would increase the cost of transporting goods, eventually affecting the consumer.
"It is you and I that will be affected. We get nailed all the way," Kelly said.
As of this month, motorists travelling north, past the new airport site, are charged R7 to R28 at the Tongaat mainline tollbooth.
Sanral's argument is that motorists using the N2 tollroad south of the new airport would not be tolled for this portion of the road if the new booth was not established.