Donald Grant, the former public works and transport MEC, is on record stating that, “walking on the freeway is illegal but it does not deserve the death penalty” (see “arrive safe/wheels 24” news on Google Chrome, November 24, 2014).
Despite Grant’s statement and the massive and unanimous opposition (including earlier, formal opposition of the municipality), voiced at a public meeting in Stellenbosch convened by the mayor, advocate Gesie van Deventer, more than a year ago, the provincial government appears determined to go ahead with the “upgrading” of the R44. MEC Bredell has dismissed appeals against the project and on August 27 granted a slightly amended environmental authorisation for construction to proceed.
After the public meeting last year, the mayor and Grant provided no feedback as promised and apparently the municipality has no written record of the meeting. So much for public participation.
Closing the median over a long section of the R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West will massively increase the danger for pedestrians that cross this route every day.
One sees this on the section of the N2 adjoining Khayelitsha. Stating that “walking on the freeway is illegal” is ignored by locals, who take the shortest route.
From a town planning and human perspective, it is unacceptable to cut communities in half with freeways, under the pretext of safety concerns.
Rather than speeding up traffic, vehicles need to be slowed down and the flow interrupted to provide for safer crossing by pedestrians.
In addition to the increased danger to pedestrians, the proposed upgrade will have a massively negative visual impact on the Winelands and natural environment. The outdated idea of closing the median along this route will not significantly reduce vehicular accidents because vehicles will have to join the route, where oncoming traffic will be travelling at even higher speeds. Closing the median will also add significantly to the transport costs of everyone living along this route, who will be forced to travel north or south to one of two unsightly elevated roundabouts to travel in the desired direction. It also raises the spectre of parallel secondary roads being necessary - even more construction and damage to the environment.
In terms of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and legislation, planning is a local function. It is accordingly difficult to understand how an MEC can dictate to the Category B autonomous Municipality of Stellenbosch what is essentially a local planning and development issue.
Can the decision by Bredell not be taken on review and an end be brought to this prejudicial project and the massive waste of taxpayers’ money? At the very least the premier and the public protector, if not the municipality, need to intervene to prevent what may constitute an environmental crime, from being committed - in a DA-controlled province and municipality.
At the first meeting some six years ago when this bizarre “road upgrade” was first raised, Malcom Watters of the Provincial Roads Department stated that if the public did not want the upgrade, the provincial government would divert the funds elsewhere. We heard this same retort in respect of the mooted Western Bypass road. This is a childish, immature attitude, hopefully not reflecting that of the Western Cape provincial government. By all means fix the road, but don’t destroy the Winelands environment in the process.
* Pieter Schaafsma, Executive member of the Stellenbosch Ratepayers Association.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.